Strategic Plans

Why a Strategic Regional Plan for Networks?

In drawing up the regional plans for three applications on behalf of Districts in Nova Scotia for the federal Connect To Innovate program, i-Valley drew many lessons which are now being applied in a general way to provide service opportunities for all Districts.

Rural regions are not well served by today’s communications networks, because they are not appealing to the organizations that public policy relies on to provide service: the market sector.  They are not commercially profitable.

However, if rural regions are considered in terms of community value, then broadband service becomes not only possible, but compelling.  In this community value approach, it is community itself that takes the initiative, provides the service  –  either on its own or through service providers acting on behalf of the community plan.

-> For more on how communities can mobilize, see: “Mobilization”

The Gig wasn’t coming here anytime soon without us doing it. It was going to go a lot of places before it came to Chattanooga. For us, like a lot of cities, you either decide to do it yourself or you wait in line. We chose to do it ourselves.

Andy Berke

Mayor, Chattanooga TN

Network Design and Implementation Study for Self-Driven Provision of Internet Infrastructure and Services to Priority Remote Communities

Background

Rural regions are often comprised of many communities that are underserved with high-speed Internet communications infrastructure. Providing broad rural and urban Internet access is critical to the economic growth and participation in the digital economy for the region’s residents and businesses.

Almost half of the labour force in rural areas typically works in industry sectors that are either remote, such as agriculture, or requiring part- or full-time telecommuting, such as finance and professional services. A further 40% can have regional occupations that require good networking, such as Administration and Health Care. Almost all the residents require better networking to participate in a digital ecosystem. Agri-tourism, for example, includes farmers’ markets, U-picks, wineries and fairs. A letter from an agri-tourism leader says:

“The majority of my business operations take place online…the only internet available is through satellite {and} it takes me 4 hours to upload 1Gb of data. High speed would save a lot of time, improve efficiency and benefit my day-to-day progress.”

The need for higher speed is illustrated in the Internet Speed Map tests that i-Valley has performed for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). 6,500 tests confirm which areas of the Annapolis Valley region are in dire need of higher speeds. The ISO-approved Global Cities Index from i-Valley can map these speeds against socio-economic factors to enable fast progress.

Regional backing for a Smart Rural Broadband program stems from a pledge by Mayors and Wardens to create a “Smart Annapolis Valley” to bring high-speed applications to all businesses and residents, ensuring that the application is part of a strategic regional cooperative movement.

In order to get to the point at which a network can be useful in serving a rural area’s economic goals, a rural region has to agree on a vision to develop a regional strategy. The network design study from i-Valley will define the road-map and strategy to move forward on the community vision.

Benefits

Benefits of Strategic Planning for Rural Communities may include:

Economic Development and Innovation

• Fishing and aquaculture businesses such as Sustainable Blue can use networked data to provide high levels of monitoring for year-round production and logistics management;
• Agricultural Enterprises can expand current technologies such as robot dairy barns, and pioneer new technologies such as the use of self-driving tractors and crop-checking drones;
• Tourism, one of the main economic supporters of the area, can receive a boost from online reservation systems and the ability to meet connected travelers’ expectations; and
• Entrepreneurs could test new products and reach world-scale prospects.

Economic Development and Innovation

Two-thirds of all small businesses start out as home businesses. If homes are not connected, there are no small businesses, because 80% of the effects of the digital economy are felt by bricks-and-mortar enterprises, who rely on networked innovation for three-quarters of all the economic growth since WW2. More than 40% of Valley businesses said access to better Internet would help their organization grow.

The acquisition of high quality Internet service means that small businesses can join the world of online digital outreach, finding new customers, obtaining supplies and doing research into business trends. This is especially true in a ‘remote’ province like Nova Scotia, and an outlying region like the Annapolis Valley. A Backbone of high-speed links that wired home- and small-business into the global spinal column is absolutely necessary – and this is recognized by people in the rural districts. Access to libraries, civic government, skills development, business supports, banking and similar services is hampered or even blocked when Internet is unavailable. Labour availability is threatened when Internet-savvy workers refuse to move to the region.

As one agri-business operator notes in a Letter:

“Our farm is involved in dairy, wild blueberries, bio-gas power, and Agri-Tourism. We work hard to keep pace with the changing technology and to develop our operations towards sustainability. Internet has become an important part of our business used for communication, data recording, cow monitoring and much more.”

Marketing and outreach can be super-charged with Internet access:

“The majority of my business operations take place online with marketing, promotion networking and communications. The only Internet available in our area is through satellite…Internet speeds are very slow and unreliable at times. If I want to upload 1Gb of data online, it takes at least 4 hours, which is 250 Mb per hour [0.07 Mbps]…”

The tourism industry sees a natural role for increased Internet speed:

“High speed Internet connectivity is essential today to every community. For our rural area, it will mean the we can better meet the needs of tourism and hopefully attract others. Our goal is to become a Smart Community, using the Internet to provide the best service and experiences we can, to visitors and the businesses that support our community.”

Many small businesses are high-tech operations. An aviation association that runs the longest-standing and largest fly-in event in Canada says in their Support Letter:
“[Better Internet speed is needed so that] Pilots can check on route weather while planning a trip; flight plans are mostly filed online these days, the present [Internet service] system is not sufficient for this.”

A Chamber of Commerce summed it up:

“The Chamber of Commerce believes the development of rural broadband access is crucial for our community.”

Language and Education

• First Nation communities could leverage a stronger Internet infrastructure to more fully utilize language apps like L’nui’suti to revive Mi’kmaq language use in schools;
• Rural students will have the same advantages as those in more urban areas with access to online courses, classroom portals, and web based applications at home; and
• Distance will have less effect: when winter weather closes the schools (as it did for 19 days in the 2016/2017 school year) — learning can continue.

Health Care and Institutions

• Rural residents will able to benefit fully from Internet based healthcare. As well, local physicians estimate that a 25% saving can be made on health care costs with adequate Internet service;
• Public Institutions such as Municipal Offices can embrace “Smart Building” techniques and technologies, following a model being delivered in Kings County and Berwick today.

At the invitation of i-Valley, Stratford ON Mayor Dan Mathieson recently inspired Valley Mayors and Wardens with visions of attainable goals. The success of Valley partner communities like Stratford show that public investments can trigger a sustainable economy where high-tech businesses have the infrastructure to grow.

Goals of the Design Study

The purpose of this study is to perform business and technical analysis to develop a locally-driven strategic network design and implementation strategy that does not rely on winning government funding contests, but can flexibly take advantage of funding opportunities as presented.

The strategy and high-level design for a region-wide fibre and wireless internet infrastructure must allow for an implementation in a “big-bang” or structured incremental approach in order to match up with the regional priorities and the scope and size of funding vehicles as they come available.  This work will ensure that the region keeps valuable momentum moving forward, not only for immiediate service delivery but also with the goal of a high degree of readiness to quickly take advantage of funding programs, whether federal, provincial, or PPP based.

Statement of work summary

i-Valley is working with regions is to provide a practical high-level model for deployment of high speed internet to selected communities in whole, or in an incremental manner. The work entails business analysis, technical analysis, and design sufficient to concretely advance the region’s knowledge in preparation for evidence-based decisions on bringing high speed internet to its underserved and non-served citizens and businesses.

The approach will consider various options such as fibre connectivity through existing telecom fibre and community-owned models based on a back-bone extension of existing applicable networks, such as the Valley Community Fibre Network. Where these do not exist, alternative backbone plans will be developed. Community branches composed of fibre or high-speed wireless and last mile connectivity are then designed and costed.

Work plan elements

i-Valley includes these work elements in the study:

1. Review applicable work that the Region has performed to date, including anchor institutions, population coverage, and back-bone and last mile eligibility.
2. Work with the Region to define the priority levels of communities that are to be serviced, based on urgency and current level of service.
3. Develop a high level design including fibre routing, PoP connectivity, fibre to the home and/or high-speed wireless last mile. The ideal situation would be leverage existing fibre backbone to achieve cost and service advantages. The last mile infrastructure is to be designed to target between 15Mbps to over 50Mbps, in line with upcoming 50Mbps speed targeted by CRTC program that is on top of CTI.
4. Design and cost the program in such a way as to allow incremental or “big-bang” implementation. Priority communities are to be factored into the incremental design approach.
5. Evaluate the benefits/tradeoffs of a community-owned infrastructure approach, along the lines of Ontario’s SWIFT fibre program, as a counterpoint to the traditional big telecom approach.  This approach is favoured by a number of communities within Nova Scotia, and in fact, an evaluation of the most successful Smart Communities has highlighted the fact that almost all winners utilized a community owned model. In any case, this approach should be compared to the telecom approach, or a mix could be considered.
6. Define a partner implementation model, with possible and/or preferred infrastructure partners, ISPs, and consulting/project management.
7. Define a long-term support model and eco-system, addressing managed support service, break/fix partners, and ISP’s.
8. Review of funding options that could include public, private, gas tax and other sources.

Region responsibilities:

1. Provide all data gathered to i-Valley, either in briefings or though documents.
2. Identify and secure preliminary agreement for anchor institutions within the eligible communities for long-lasting PoP locations. Candidates could include fire halls, town halls, community centres, schools etc.
3. The Region is open to provide an in-kind project support contribution of 5 FTE days from a qualified individual, in part to lower consulting costs, and in part to increase knowledge transfer.

Project deliverables:

1. Report of targeted communities, and the recommended anchor institutions/PoPs, using the CTI eligibility map as a base-line, augmented with any additional under-served and non-served communities that are identified. Any desired priorities will be identified. Geographical coverage heat map examples will be documented for up to 2 priority communities, based on professional radio frequency modelling tools.
2. Physical route plan and logical network diagram.
3. Cost estimates matching the physical routes and coverage requirements and technical architecture. The costing will be granular, sufficient to allow for incremental build cost estimates.
4. An implementation model (Business Model) that identifies suitable infrastructure partners and managed service partners and project management. A community-owned utility model will be explored as a counterpoint to the traditional big telecom approach.
5. A long-term support model and eco-system, addressing managed support service, break/fix partners, and ISP’s.
6. An exploration of funding models and opportunities, including federal, provincial, municipal, or PPP.
7. The Region and i-Valley will receive joint ownership of the deliverables.
8. The work is to be performed in confidence, and neither party shall communicate publicly without mutual consent, not to be unreasonably withheld.

Proposal

i-Valley will provide a concise proposal to each regional prospective partner consisting of:
• A description of the Consultant and their experience and expertise in the defined field
• Their approach to this work
• High level project timeline
• CVs of the lead consultant(s) depicting relevant experience

The work shall be a fixed cost project, including any travel and miscellaneous expenses.