Fibre optic cable being laid along Tarcutta Street in Wagga Wagga

Maple Ridge’s fibre-optic network is a work in progress

District looking for partners interested in installing a network in the more built up parts of Maple Ridge

Maple Ridge is looking for a partner to see if there’s a way of using the district’s fibre-optic cable network to provide Internet communications in more populated areas.

There’s no business model or specific plan just yet. That remains a work in progress, aided by a consultant who will try to identify what might work for Maple Ridge.

“I think what we’re trying to do is to see what kind of opportunities are out there,” said John Bastaja, corporate support director for the district.

“If it doesn’t work and it’s not good for the community and for the district, we won’t do it.”

The district currently has about 15 kilometres of fibre optic cable that it has laid as roadwork has taken place. Whenever major roads were dug up, the district installed an extra network of pipes through which fibre optic cables could be laid at a later date. It’s also got about another eight kilometres of abandoned underground pipes that could be used later.

One stretch of three km allows a fibre optic connection between the municipal hall, Fire Hall No. 1, and the public works operations centre, all along Dewdney Trunk Road, creating speedier communications than coaxial or copper wires.

Bastaja said one or more Internet service providers could be interested in installing a network in the more built up parts of Maple Ridge. With more subscribers in the area, a company could be attracted by the population and potential profit of providing an Internet service that’s independent of major providers such as Shaw or Telus.

But the majors would also be welcome, said Bastaja, who added he didn’t want the fibre optic network to be exclusive.

Such a network could improve Maple Ridge’s business competitiveness by having state of the art communications available, Bastaja said.

Council heard a presentation at its Monday workshop and was introduced to consultant Roell Coert with QNet – the Coquitlam Optical Network Corp., owned by the City of Coquitlam. Coert will try to identify the conditions that might attract a service provider to Maple Ridge.

A bylaw is also being considered that would require developers to install fibre optic conduit whenever they put in new roads and sidewalks. But no decision’s been made.

“Maybe we get them [developers] to put in a telecommunications conduit for us. If they’ve got the trench open, throw in a second conduit [pipe] for our network. Some of the costs are very marginal, additional costs, in terms of the subdivision,” Bastaja explained.

That could happen in piecemeal steps, then later connected into a network, he explained.

Coquitlam already requires communications companies to install fibre optic pipes for the municipality whenever they’re installing their own.

The district’s plan to create a network has gone in fits and starts. An initial partnership in 2008 between the district and a private company dissolved during the recession and two previous requests for proposals had companies make pitches in which the district would take the risk if revenues dropped.

Coquitlam’s QNet purpose is to use the city’s unused fibre optic network “to enable economic growth through the provision of competitive, high-speed telecommunications services in the community.”

A report goes to council in a few months.

The key is to go slow and do it properly, Bastaja added.

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