The town believes being smart with technology means becoming an internet provider and connecting every home and business in the town and perhaps the surrounding rural area with a low-cost internet service.
By a 5-2 vote, town council gave the thumbs up to the town's initial Smart City Challenge submission, last night. It required the creation of a 50-word statement that summarized the way contestants would utilize federal Infrastructure money to enhance their communities with smart technology.
The town doesn't aim to pursue the $50 million prize, as originally touted by Mayor Jeff Genung, and instead is targeting the $5 million prize to anchor a $20-million project. Even if it fails to win, the town doesn't rule out the possibility of pursuing the project.
The town's Smart City Challenge submission centres on using technology to include and empower all its residents and businesses by connecting everyone through a town-owned and operated internet system. That connection would be utilized to provide information and receive feedback from the community and is envisioned to help manage infrastructure and emergency services.
Behind the statement is an overarching theme "Cochrane Cares" that aims to make people feel connected. It would include integral open city applications and platforms that provide community, town services and mobility connections.
The stated aim is to battle people's loneliness and the disconnection with their community. According to the report "Cochrane Cares: A Regional Well-Being Review" released by FCSS last June, 41 per cent of residents feel lonely (youth, 46 per cent, adults, 44 per cent, seniors 29 per cent). They aim to reduce this to five per cent. They also aim to have practically every citizen involved in some capacity as volunteers and feel satisfied with the quality of life. According to statistics presented, 72 per cent of residents regularly volunteers and 74 percent are satisfied with the quality of life here.
This sense of loneliness and disconnection isn't unique to Cochrane and that aids the town in pursuing the funds. Statistics indicate 50 per cent of Canadians don't know their neighbours and in the US, 40 per cent of people say they are lonely.
Should the town be successful in its bid, it would be borrowing $15 million over five years and pay it off in 20 years. Because of the fibre connection, it is projected to offer 100Mbps x 100 Mbps upload/download capability and that means residents could, for example, download a two-hour movie in about one minute. Those requiring an internet service beyond 100Mbps would pay a surcharge, and these additional funds would be used to maintain and upgrade the system as necessary.
The cost to all households and businesses will be an annual utility fee of about $53 dollars or $4.43 per month. It would be a mandatory payment for all properties, so you're paying for it whether or not you want it.
Still, the savings are projected to be massive for Cochranites should it proceed. The town estimates internet users currently pay their providers between $60 and $90 per month and Mayor Genung says collectively it would put about $8.25 million back into the pocket of residents,
Town Chief Administrative Officer Dave Devana explained the town is declaring its interest in the $5 million prize because much of the cost of the project is related to the installation of the fibre infrastructure and not seen as innovative, the target of the federal funding.
While Mayor Jeff Genung and councillors Tara McFadden and Susan Flowers were particularly enthusiastic about the idea, Councillors Patrick Wilson and Morgan Nagel were not convinced the town should get into the internet business and voted against the submission.
Councillor Nagel says the cost of the project seemed too good to be true and questioned why the town would go into competition with business and how it believes it can provide the service at a 10th of the cost of the private sector. He was also lukewarm to the idea of government being an internet provider.
Councillor Wilson expressed concern over the growing cost of the project. The first proposal he saw pegged the cost $12 million and it has since grown to $19 million.
Both were concerned the town was only pursuing the $5 million grant.
The nationwide Smart City Challenge is offering one prize of $5 million, two prizes of $10 million and one of $50 million. The funds are being hitly pursued by many Canadian municipalities. By this summer, those shortlisted for the $5 million prize will be named and receive $250,000 to flush out their ideas and develop a business plan. Winners of the prizes will be announced in spring 2019.
Today is the final deadline to be part of the contest.