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Morden to offer internet as service to residents

Lauren MacGill

Mayor Ken Wiebe announced Morenet, Morden's answer to underwhelming internet service, at the Morden & District Chamber of Commerce AGM on April 5. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)

Mayor Ken Wiebe announced Morenet, Morden's answer to underwhelming internet service, at the Morden & District Chamber of Commerce AGM on April 5. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)


The City of Morden will soon be the first in Canada to offer city-wide high-speed internet as a service to residents.

Morenet will be a community-owned internet service provider that is owned by the city, which will provide internet to residents at no additional cost. “We’re on the leading edge of technology,” Morden mayor Ken Wiebe said. “We’re providing what [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] has deemed as an essential service for Canadian citizens. We believe internet service ranks right up there with water, sewer and electricity.”

Morenet is the city's answer to the gap in internet service in the area. “People are paying $60, $80, $100 a month for internet service and they’re not happy with it,” Wiebe said. “They’re totally dissatisfied. The City of Winkler is updating to fiber and it’ll certainly improve the delivery there. We started testing [Morenet] about four months ago and all the people that are on it say it’s amazing.”

“100 Mbps up and down speed, and what is everybody else getting?” Wiebe added. “It’s proving that it’s working.”

The city already has infrastructure in place to turn the service on for May 1. This will capture about 1,300 properties initially that will be able to be connected. The rest will be connected through the summer.

There will be a one-time hookup fee of $400, but once a residence is hooked up to Morenet, there won’t be an ongoing monthly cost.

“The approach we’ve taken is that the city will provide the core infrastructure similar to how we do with other services,” director of planning and engineering Dave Haines said. “If you build a house you would pay for the connection from the house to the water and sewer. For the internet service, we’ll provide you a point of connection and you install the equipment you need to connect to it and start using it.”

Haines said installation takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

“The goal with this is that it stays on the leading edge of what’s available in technology,” Haines said. “That means we’re aiming for a baseline of 100 Mbps, so I don’t think you can find that very easily on the market at a price that most people want to pay.”

From there, Haines said the next step is to get gigabit speeds. “It’s already on the market,” he said. “For our infrastructure we’re starting out with a fair, flat structure for what we offer, but from what we can see it meets the needs of pretty much everybody.”

Wiebe said the city has been working on this for a while, and said the service should be second to none in the country.

“About four years ago we challenged the staff to come up with a way to provide this kind of service for the community,” Wiebe said. “We looked at all the other things that are available out there and they cost a lot of money. We think that we have come up with something that is better at an amazing cost.”

The first round of connections are estimated to cost around $250,000. City manager John Scarce said there are a few more things that need to be done, which would come to around an additional $70,000.

“What the challenge was with council was they didn’t want to go and increase mill rates or cost another cent to citizens,” Scarce said. “We were challenged to try and deliver a 10 per cent savings in operations. We achieved around six per cent, which allowed us to put money into both capital and operating, and that will be ongoing.”

“If we keep our mill rates at the same for each year and we run our services, there’s not going to be an extra cent to residents to be able to sign up for this,” he added. “The only cost to the residents will be their installation costs onto their own property.”

Scarce said being able to offer internet at no monthly cost to residents is possible because they stripped the project to its bare bones. “All the equipment we’ve done, we’ve put in at wholesale prices,” he said. “There’s no retail markup because we’ve been doing it ourselves, so we’ve got that as an advantage. When you factor in that we don’t have profit in the costs, we don’t have to put in a high cost for risk or anything like that, then you can come to the bare minimum costs.”

Haines said the costs speak for themselves. “We’ve managed to manage the budget in a way that we could add this on without increasing overall costs,” he said. “What we’ve discovered is the cost to implement the service is low enough that the impact onto the total budget for the community is not significant.”

Scarce said the city looked at places like Fredericton, NB that have rolled out free internet services for sectors of the city.

Scarce said there is still work to be done. The city plans to have residents hooked up by September.

Wiebe credits city staff with meeting the challenge, and said the city is grateful for their partnership with Infotec Manitoba, who designed and developed the concept.

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