Diversifying the Local Economy Starting with a Municipally-Owned Broadband Network
With the launch of a municipal broadband fibre-optic network, CRAdvantage, Campbell River is positioning itself as one of B.C.’s most tech-accessible smaller communities. In fact, the city is the first community on Vancouver Island to offer a municipal broadband network.
Businesses increasingly see broadband as mandatory infrastructure to support their growth. Although broadband is especially crucial to the growth of the tech and knowledge-based sector, it also enables innovation across sectors like forestry and aquaculture, which are now uploading and analyzing large amounts of data to monitor and improve operations.
In urban centres the cost of connecting to a fibre-optic backbone is shared across hundreds of businesses. But for small and medium-sized businesses outside of urban centres, the cost of connecting to the existing fibre-optic backbone can be a barrier.
As Campbell River imagined the future of the community, the city sought to foster a supportive ecosystem for tech and innovation and to diversify the local economy beyond natural resource industries. The municipal council recognized that a lack of affordable high-speed Internet in the community was a barrier to attracting new business and investment.
After several potential investors chose to go elsewhere because of the lack of affordable high-speed Internet, Campbell River decided to invest in a downtown municipal broadband fibre-optic network. The infrastructure was funded by the City of Campbell River and the Island Coastal Economic Trust.
The broadband network launched in November 2017, and supplies low-cost broadband services to businesses and non-profits in downtown Campbell River. The network delivers up to 1GB of symmetrical bandwidth (offering identical upload and download speeds) equivalent to speeds available in Vancouver and San Francisco.
The network also offers scalable bandwidth so speeds can increase based on a company’s changing needs. In other words, the network can seamlessly respond to a sudden influx of visitors – avoiding the dreaded website crash if a product goes viral.
Campbell River built and owns the infrastructure and, after exploring different governance models, has settled on an open access model, allowing third-party providers to sell and administer broadband to customers.
The Path Ahead
The positive response has been immediate. The city’s economic development office has heard positive feedback from existing businesses and fielded calls from entrepreneurs and businesses interested in locating in the city. The community has also been happy and supportive of the initiative.
There is currently one broadband service provider in Campbell River but that doesn’t have to be the case. The fibre-optic line is open access and can host more than one service provider, which could lead to more competitive prices for users.
Lessons Learned and Final Thoughts
Rose Klukas, Campbell River’s economic development officer, notes that it’s important to learn from other communities when exploring options for municipal broadband networks. A thorough understanding of the regulations for broadband providers is another important piece for communities considering laying a fibre-optic network.
March 1, 2018