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Broadband Innovation and Collaboration Leads to Improved Connectivity Across Ontario

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Ron Jaikaran's picture
Director, Commercial Advisory & Strategy Infrastructure Ontario

Ron Jaikaran has over 10 years of public policy, infrastructure and energy experience. He is currently a Director of Commercial Projects at Infrastructure Ontario responsible for leading the...

  • Member since 2022
  • 2 items added with 361 views
  • Dec 7, 2022
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This item is part of the Data Analytics and Intelligence - November/December 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Same old, same old solutions don’t deliver monumental results. Ontario is on a bold mission to connect every corner of the province to high-speed internet. Getting there requires unprecedented collaboration across sectors, industries, and organizations. That’s why enabling people, process and technology through a seamless new data platform is fundamentally transforming the way Ontario gets things done.

How so? The Accelerated High-Speed Internet Program (AHSIP), which was conceived to support the government in delivering on its nearly $4 billion promise of more equitable internet access, represents a historic step in the way the market delivers broadband infrastructure at scale to address a significant digital divide. Led by Infrastructure Ontario and the Ministry of Infrastructure, this multi-layered program is systematically dismantling barriers, reducing red tape and introducing innovations to unite public and private efforts around a common goal.

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"We've had the opportunity to introduce precedent-setting innovations through this program," said Ron Jaikaran, Director, Commercial Advisory & Strategy at Infrastructure Ontario. "These are leading capabilities that all participants can leverage for successful implementation as evidenced by our recent Silver Award for Innovation and Excellence in P3s from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships."

While past broadband projects were initiated to address specific gaps, their processes and contractual structures were often based on grants or contribution agreements, which encouraged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to focus on the most economical markets at the expense of the more rural and remote areas, and without public partner incentives to maintain operational service quality. This highlights how the Program is a broader initiative that aims to allow for ubiquitous service across every region of Ontario.

As part of AHSIP, Infrastructure Ontario led a highly innovative procurement process that enabled Internet Service Providers to bid for Provincial subsidies through a series of reverse auction events – the first of its kind in Canada, for defined geographic areas, based upon requirements for high-speed internet infrastructure deployment. The reverse auction was developed as an innovative, outcome-based procurement approach leveraging extensive detailed geospatial mapping of unserved and underserved communities across Ontario. In the end, through awarding competitively procured contracts to 8 ISPs, up to 266,000 premises across as many as 339 municipalities will have access to high-speed internet by the end of 2025, five years faster than the federal CRTC goal to connect all Canadians by 2030.

“This competitive process is the first of its kind in Canada and has led to an unprecedented market response and commitment to deliver high-speed internet connections to communities that have been left underserved until now,” said Michael Lindsay, President and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario. "We at Infrastructure Ontario are proud to help create a connected, modern and competitive Ontario.”

With such a market coordination challenge, there can be no common momentum without a single source of truth to guide decision making, support project management and compel coordinated action. In that spirit, the Broadband One Window (BOW) platform was born. The BOW platform was introduced to all parties involved in the delivery of high-speed internet services in Ontario to design, procure, construct, and manage provincially funded projects to facilitate broadband deployment. It is an integral innovation designed to enhance coordination and engagement with public and private sector partners during the high-speed internet project lifecycle. The BOW integrates leading technologies such as geospatial mapping, analytics, and cloud infrastructure. It is the first digital platform in Ontario history to be legally mandated for use to address barriers and streamline coordination amongst broadband infrastructure delivery partners. The BOW allows ISPs to conduct all contractual reporting through the platform, and ISPs can submit rights-of-way and municipal consent permit applications to municipalities as well as submit third-party pole attachment requests to local distribution companies (utilities). Partners are also able to submit requests for technical assistance or dispute resolution support.

The BOW was designed to address barriers and streamline coordination to deliver on Ontario’s high-speed internet as a one-stop-shop approach to accelerating AHSIP deployment. In practice, this data-backed platform centralizes every aspect of the initiative in a singularly powerful place. Whoever you are, and whatever role you’re playing in the AHSIP ecosystem, BOW gives you clear line of sight into up-to-date conditions, data and information needed to manage programs, workstreams and decisions confidently, at speed and scale.

Imagine a typical Ontario street, where new infrastructure must be installed on existing utility poles and rights of way. On the surface, it’s a straight-forward assignment. Dig deeper, though, and even the most typical installation introduces a whole slew of dependencies and potential unintended consequences. Upfront analysis of aerial and buried infrastructure is conducted well ahead of schedule. Planning to get the right tools and crews at the right place, at the right time is needed. Coordination between infrastructure owners and multiple contractors is required. Communication between those doing the work, and municipalities who’ll help manage it through road closures. Safety precautions and risk mitigation are top of mind. All of this must take place in a thoughtfully orchestrated flow to ensure a single job like this gets done without an unending stream of hiccups, mishaps, repeated closures, or other interruptions. Extend those considerations across an initiative of AHSIP’s size (with so many municipalities and actors involved) and you start to get a sense of just how complicated this can be.

The design and rollout of the BOW will allow for a robust set of key functionalities: 

  • People can tap into stronger insight and information to fuel their work. Whether you’re a private sector leader plotting out workflow for AHSIP infrastructure installation, or a policymaker looking to bolster execution through new legislation and regulation: any decision is better when backed by robust data. Because BOW facilitates data sharing, the platform is already allowing real people to coordinate work and mitigate risk with a clearer view. This capability emboldens the people moving AHSIP forward with important new ways of making, tracking and measuring progress.
  • Processes are informed by real-time intelligence to drive greater efficiency. When policies are adapted based on current data, they become more impactful. Built-in dashboards housed within BOW aggregate fresh numbers to integrate project management, permitting and approvals, and performance tracking. By providing all stakeholders access to data, information and documentation, BOW allows for essential cross-project collaboration knowledge to shape the way stakeholders work. The BOW platform offers everyone working behind the AHSIP scenes an anytime, anywhere channel to the kind of information that’s essential to managing an undertaking of this magnitude.
  • Technology is empowering people to work better and faster together. Rolling out an infrastructure build of AHSIP’s size necessitates an accurate, big picture view of potential obstacles or barriers. Because BOW is a common repository of geospatial (GIS) data and mapping, AHSIP stakeholders can use the platform to share information using location-based analytics. That in itself is a game changer for Ontario. The crystal clear insight that GIS surfaces is already helping stakeholders design, procure, build and manage the AHSIP program with an incredible level of accuracy—and at far lower cost for Ontarians. This at-your-fingertips transparency—combined with BOW’s joint-use management software capabilities—represents limitless possibilities for people on the ground. Ensuring the right telco equipment attachment is at the right utility pole, at the right time. Enhancing communications between workflows to coordinate time and resources best. Enabling teams to pull high-quality data right into electronically managed documents that are accessible, sharable and useable at a tactical level. All of this is made possible by the technology itself. That’s key.

The government’s commitment to connect all regions in Ontario to high-speed internet by the end of 2025 requires an innovative approach and equally innovative tools. Of course, BOW itself is only as powerful as organizations’ collective commitment to using it well. By making BOW the required coordination platform for AHSIP, this allows for a means of bringing infrastructure owners together to integrate, standardize and streamline this program in real-time. It’s working. Even so, this is only the beginning.

Establishing a new digital environment where Ontarians can trust the data, and employ it to build additional infrastructure solutions, holds real potential. Digitizing data and information collection, then sharing through BOW, could unlock additional progress for infrastructure projects beyond AHSIP—from highways and subways to hospitals and schools. In the long-term, digital twins will make it possible to upcycle BOW’s foundation into similar platforms to fuel those infrastructure projects without reinventing the digital wheel. That’s incredibly exciting.

Using BOW “clears and steers” the way for accelerating Ontarians’ access to high-speed internet—all while developing compelling new ways of building infrastructure. 

Quick Facts

On November 21, 2022 the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) presented Infrastructure Ontario and the Ministry of Infrastructure with a National Silver Award for Innovation and Excellence in Public-Private Partnerships (P3) that recognizes how partners are continuing to adapt and refine the ‘made-in-Canada’ P3 model to create, deliver, operate, and maintain innovative and transformative infrastructure for their communities.

In 2021, Ontario passed the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021 to help speed up construction of broadband projects. To build upon this legislation, the Ontario government passed the Getting Ontario Connected Act, 2022 which further reduces barriers, duplication, and delays.

Finding innovative solutions to ensure people and businesses have access to high-speed internet is part of the government’s Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Dec 7, 2022

Technology is empowering people to work better and faster together

This is a critical point in the utility sector, especially where some workers fear that technology is there to replace, when the reality is that the technology there is to enhance their expertise and experience. Do you have advice or experience in how to best communicate that to a skeptical workforce? 

Ron Jaikaran's picture
Ron Jaikaran on Dec 12, 2022

Great question Matt and thanks for raising it - In order to expedite delivery of the AHSIP we recognized we had to put people at the centre of our planning and thinking. We recognized from the onset that there would be a wide breadth of over 500 stakeholders across the Province, each with different and often competing priorities. So we understood and prioritized connecting with these stakeholders through interactive sessions and working with them to gather feedback to support the adoption of new tools and measures that are available to expedite broadband deployment and ultimately make their lives easier. A key takeaway from our experience has been that the backbone of our innovation has relied on the adoption of a new technology solution – and the adoption of this tool will enhance coordination and communication across all workers involved. Re-iterating that the use of this technology is only as effective and as powerful as the people’s commitment to using it well is the most effective way we communicated this message.

To learn more about the importance of communication surrounding technology change management, see the link to an article below that certainly is directly applicable to the Broadband One Window platform, part of the AHSIP.

https://www.esri.com/about/newsroom/arcuser/a-seven-step-strategy-for-managing-technology-change/

Ron Jaikaran's picture
Thank Ron for the Post!
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