Kamloops Community Network -a vision unfulfilled.

 

Olds, not Kamloops, became Canada’s first gigabit town after big carriers refused to expand services. We could have had it before the Alberta town. Taking matters into its own hands, Olds launched a municipal Internet utility with 1 Gbps service.

Olds understands that high speed data connections are as important as any other infrastructure. Information highways are as vital as roadways in making small towns attractive places for innovative people to live and for business to thrive.

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To get some idea of just how fast 1 Gigabits per second is, I checked the speed of my internet connection at home in Kamloops. At a download speed of 28 Mbps, it’s a bit better than city average. But its only three per cent of what we could have had. You can check your speeds at the Global Standard for Internet Metrics (OOKLA), as well as checking local, national, and global speeds for comparison.

Former city technology manager Frank Mayhood had a vision for Kamloops in1998 after reading an article in Scientific American. He figured that all of Kamloops 25,000 buildings could be wired for less than it cost to build our water treatment plant.

We would have been the most wired city our size in Canada. And forget that old critism that public projects shouldn’t compete with private: Frank’s project wouldn’t compete any more than public roads do. “It’s like a port for ships or roads for trucks. The government builds ports and roads but private companies own the ships which dock and the trucks which drive on the roads carrying goods,” Mayhood told Kamloops This Week in 2001.

Not only did Kamloops City council think it was a good idea, so did provincial leaders. Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond said “This technology has not been used as comprehensively anywhere else in British Columbia. Kamloops has again shown itself to be a leader.”

The first phase was completed by stringing 50 km of optical fibre and the data speeds were blindingly fast, the capacity huge. Built in 2005 at a cost of $1.1 million, it connected city hall, the school district and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Right away, the city saved $25,000 a month in telephone costs.

Tony Klancar, Information Technology Manager for the City told me that they offer data rates of 10 Gbps but that’s only limited to the equipment attached to the backbone. Bandwidth rates of 100 Gbps for 450 users are possible on the Kamloops Community Network. And that’s not just the occasional top speed offered by some carriers; that’s a continoius 100 Gbps.

The second phase involved connections to businesses was a partial success. The third phase, however, which would connect all Kamloops homes, never happened.

The idea just seemed to run out of steam after Frank Mayhood retired, former city councillor Nancy Bepple told me. Without someone driving the vision, the demand waned.

What a shame. By leasing excess capacity, the city could have paid off the cost of infrastructure in no time. Telus obviously thinks that stringing up optical fibre is sound fiscal plan, picking up the ball that the city dropped. On a private highway, I still might get speeds of 1 Gbps.

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