Nokomis’ Transformation to a Connected Town

Nokomis’ Transformation to a Connected Town

Photo by fauxels

When David Mark moved to Nokomis in 2004, he’d heard the town had high-speed internet. The promise of 50 Mbps downloads and 10 Mbps uploads (also known as 50/10) would have been plenty for the work he needed to do as a touring musician. But the promise of those speeds never truly materialized.

“We usually got 12/1, 12/2 at the best of times,” Mark says.

By 2020, Mark had been the Mayor of Nokomis for nearly a decade and connectivity in the town was not just lagging; it was on the verge of being a real problem. Even if they were reaching the federal minimum of 50/10, that level has been criticized for being too slow for modern needs, and with a population below 500, the town didn’t look like an attractive candidate for the upgrades it needed from existing providers.

Then, a hometown boy came calling with a solution that found Nokomis in the perfect position to become a Connected Town. When the FlexNetworks line from Saskatoon to Regina was set to run nearby, one of their advisors, Neil McClughan, knew his hometown was a smart choice for linking into the network—and Town Council knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“This is the new utility. It’s no different than power and gas coming through in the 60s.”

– David Mark

“It’s a combination of luck and fate that brought FlexNetworks and Redbird Communications to the Town of Nokomis,” says Mark. “All those things lining up, it’s too much coincidence to not recognize it’s something special.”

But luck and fate usually need an assist from hard work, so Council dug in. It began with giving access to easements to see how the network would look in the town and ensuring that there was enough interest to make the investment worthwhile. They needed to hit a threshold of interest from residents before the project could move forward, which was harder to get than they’d expected.

“We kind of stalled out on interest in the spring of 2021,” Mark says. So they decided to make a direct appeal. Two representatives from Redbird and two from Town Council went to every home in Nokomis to try to shore up support.

“My pitch at the door was about access,” Mark says. “Lack of internet connectivity would be another way to exclude small towns like us. I talked to people about value, especially people who said they had no need (for high-speed internet) right now. But the existing infrastructure is already obsolete. This is the new utility. It’s no different than power and gas coming through in the 60s.”

Though they didn’t get to talk to someone at every home, by making that direct connection with people they got more than enough support to move the project forward.

Within a year and a half, Nokomis went from slow service on copper lines to fibre connections with guaranteed speeds of 50/10 plus the option of speeds up to 2.5 Gb/second for both downloads and uploads. The circuit going past Nokomis is the fastest you’ll find in Saskatchewan right now, and service is protected by triple redundancy, with potential to go up to five levels.

The benefits go beyond people’s front doors, says Mark. “Now we are looking for economic development opportunities because we have commercial, industrial levels of access now. Having a council made up of people who value the future and the role we have in it is an essential ingredient.”

Nokomis’ present is that of a Connected Town, and Mark’s view of the future moves toward a Connected Saskatchewan. He hopes to share access beyond the town boundaries, perhaps by getting wireless service to nearby Last Mountain Regional Park.

“I would like to share the benefits,” he says. “As a municipal representative, I think it’s a duty to share. We’re not in the business of competition; we are in the business of providing a core service.”

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