Meet the Intelligent Community of Grey County, Ontario

Last month, the March edition of profiled Edmonton, Alberta, one of the two 2017 Top7 Intelligent Communities. Edmonton was also awarded ICF Smart21 recognition in 2008, 2009,  2015, and 2017.  This month meet Grey County, Ontario – Canada’s other 2017 Top7 Intelligent Community. What’s it all about?

Grey County is part of the area to the north of the Greater Toronto Area, attracting many cottage owners, seniors and many tourists wanting to escape the urban areas of Ontario. It also has an established population focused on Manufacturing (11.3%); Retail Trade (11%) Construction (9.3%); Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting (6.8%); and Accommodation & Food Services (6.5%). Its older population creates opportunities in the health and support services sector (13%) as demand for care for the elderly increases in Grey County. What’s really interesting is that the concentration of Grey County’s agricultural sector (which includes forestry, fishing, and hunting) is 6 times the Canadian national average and 4 times the Ontario average.

One of the key activities that helps to define its transformation is its special focus on an initiative called the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) Network which will be developed to address major gaps and lack of fibre-optic broadband connectivity at a regional and rural level, especially where population densities are low. The development of SWIFT comes as a direct reaction to the fact that market forces alone will not meet the needs for improved connectivity inGrey County and the greater region. SWIFT’s program will direct funding from multiple government sources including municipal, provincial and federal governments, to address the gaps in broadband infrastructure and adding to the existing fibre in the area to create a much more far-reaching regional fibre network. For instance, $180 million in federal and provincial funding for SWIFT, announced last year, is expected to trigger private investment from ISPs, who will continue to own and operate their networks and deliver services directly to customers. The coverage extends to an area of 41,286 square kilometers and reaching a potential population of over 3.5 million people in Ontario. Grey County has been a critical driving force, champion and major enabler of this program through dedicating staff resources, and providing political support and empowerment to make a reality. SWIFT will help the region compete, connect and keep pace in a digital world by building an ultra-high-speed fibre optic regional broadband network for everyone in Southwestern Ontario and Niagara Region, connecting the entire region with service ranging from 1 Gbps up to 100 Gbps. As an ubiquitous, open access fibre network, SWIFT will provide service from Orillia to Windsor, including Niagara and Caledon, and will be owned and operated by service providers and supported through subsidies and oversight by the public sector.

Grey County has also been a key part in providing data for ongoing research about the economic impact of broadband availability and adoption in rural Ontario, serving as one of the first SWIFT partners to provide longitudinal data on broadband needs and utilization. This data was incorporated into the University of Guelph’s Rural and Regional Broadband Project. This involvement also ties into Grey County’s early leadership in the former Southwest Economic Alliance’s Intelligent Region study and the Smart+Connected Communities pilot study conducted by Cisco in Grey County, which was conducted in support of and collaboration with the early-stage development of the SWIFT feasibility study.

ICF Co-Founder Lou Zacharilla will travel to both Edmonton, Alberta and Grey County in Ontario prior to the announcement on June 8 of the Intelligent Community of the Year. He will be reviewing aspects of their application and learning more about their activities as Intelligent Communities. His reports will then be shared with an international jury, whose votes will be an important part of the final selection process leading to the Intelligent Community of the Year. Good Luck Edmonton and Grey County. Your competition this year is Melbourne and Ipswich, Australia; Chiayi City and Taoyuan in Taiwan; and Moscow. Come to the ICF Summit to meet these cities and witness who will win this year’s Intelligent Community of the Year:


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