Petawawa's Plan to make Distance Disappear
Karen Fischer's dream of making distance disappear|
using videoconferencing technology is informative,
and so are the road blocks she encountered.
Petawawa's Plan to make Distance DisappearKaren Fischer's dream of making distance disappear using videoconferencing technology is informative, and so are the road blocks she encountered.
Karen Fischer, Economic Development Officer for the Ontario town of Petawawa, is responsible for attracting new businesses and new investment to her community.
The task shouldn't be difficult. Despite the small population of 15,000, Petawawa has a stable economy. Canadian Forces Base Petawawa disperses its regular payroll into the community, as well as making financial contributions for municipal infrastructure. The base also provides world-class athletic and recreational facilities for its staff and general public. Finally the town is next door to Algonquin Park, in the midst of a wilderness paradise which is the envy of the world.
Karen does face challenges. Meeting with potential investors requires either a full day trip to Ottawa, or a two-day expedition to Toronto with associated travel expenses. As negotiations advance, she often needs to bring five to ten people together in one room, some from Petawawa and others from away. Not only is the time commitment for these meetings prohibitive, but the out of pocket costs for travel and living alone would guarantee that this type of activity will not become an everyday event.
Two years ago Karen was struck with an idea for a solution: Videoconferencing! At that time advances in technology were making it practical to hold face-to-face meetings with participants in three or more cities. Setting up meetings between town councilors or local business people and investors could now be done with a two-hour time investment from each participant and without a lot of travel costs.
Karen moved ahead with this idea, obtained buy in from the mayor, and arranged for a six-month loan of equipment to the municipality at no cost. All she needed now was access to a few ISDN lines and the trial would take flight.
However the project never did take flight: high speed Internet links that come into town for use by CFB Petawawa are secure and cannot be shared; high speed VPN links that run past the community from near by Atomic Energy of Canada, were private as well; neighbouring Pembroke has fibre optics,
but a fibre jump from Pembroke would cost $200k; local telephone switch upgrades to support ISDN ... approximately $250k; and finally a multiple tower wireless jump from Pembroke .... $120k. ... Emerged in a sea of connectivity it could not access, Petawawa was not able to establish a videoconferencing trial within any reasonable budget.
Many, many businesses and municipalities are similarly surprised when they look for services that they thought were available in their community and they find out that, their part, of their community, has been left out.
Karen's collision with the bandwidth barrier caught her by complete surprise. Many, many businesses and municipalities are similarly surprised when they look for services that they thought were available in their community and they find out that, their part, of their community, has been left out.
Since that time Karen has become much more aware of the subtleties of the high speed Internet dilemma. Working with neighbouring communities she has helped to sell her community's case to Bell Canada and obtained DSL service for most of Petawawa. Notably the DSL service ends 500 feet short of the local airport, but then even in the Greater Toronto Area not everyone has DSL.
As for videoconferencing, DSL service does not support the quality of video connections that initially inspired Karen. Her dream of a fully connected Petawawa has taken its first baby steps but there remains much more to achieve.