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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

County reappoints McNamara to SWIFT Board

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Essex County Council supported the re-appointment of Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara as Essex County’s representative on the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Board of Directors during its January 17 meeting.

  Correspondence sent to the County from SWIFT – a non-profit, municipally-led broadband expansion project created to improve internet connectivity in underserved communities and rural areas across Southwestern Ontario – asked that Essex County either reappoint the Essex County’s current SWIFT Board rep or nominate a member of Council for consideration as a Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus member representative.

  McNamara is the current rep on the Board for Essex County.

  At its October 20 Board meeting, the SWIFT Board of Directors set May 10 as the 2024 Annual General Meeting date. At the end of the 2024 AGM, McNamara’s two-year term as a member of this board will expire.

  This is a two-year term appointment, ending at the 2026 AGM.

  As Essex County’s Warden, Hilda MacDonald, who is also Mayor of Leamington, said she is invited to sit on the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus. She noted McNamara has sat as a member of the SWIFT Board for a number of years, as he was the Warden of Essex County during the previous Term of Council.

  “Because SWIFT is starting to be on its finishing course, I felt it was a big learning curve for myself. So, I was to suggest [McNamara] continue until the SWIFT position – and the SWIFT operation – is over,” MacDonald said.

  “I think for anyone, it would be a huge learning curve, not productive for yourselves nor for the committee,” MacDonald added.

  McNamara noted SWIFT handed out 97 contracts around three-years ago, of which 94 are complete.

  “We are starting to wind things down,” McNamara said. That will be in and around 2026, at which point SWIFT will go into a more “caretaker” role.

  Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Kirk Walstedt noted there are still huge areas in the County that are underserviced. He asked if there will be any assistance or programs to help with that.

  McNamara noted SWIFT was originally told to find the “lowest hanging fruit” in the 16 counties and two communities it was to serve. That is done. The current step, through direction of the Province, is to put bids out throughout Ontario through the Accelerated High-Speed Internet Program (AHSIP) – which has invested $4 billion to bring access to reliable, high-speed internet to unserved and underserved communities across the province by the end of 2025 – and the Internet Service providers would put in tenders.

  Funds, he said, have been allocated to Xplore to finish up those holes in service.

  MacDonald thanked McNamara for being willing to continue on in this position.

  In November of 2021, SWIFT announced Essex County was to receive $19M in broadband upgrades to support five fibre-to-the-home projects.

  This project awarded contracts to expand high-speed fibre-optic broadband services to 5,173 households and businesses throughout the municipalities of Essex, Kingsville, Leamington and Lakeshore. Construction was said to be completed by the fall of 2022.

  Town of Essex Council received the presentation at that time.

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