Improving Cell Service

EORN is spearheading a $213-million public-private partnership to improve cell service across the region. Both the federal and provincial governments have committed $71 million each. All municipal members of the EOWC and most of the EOMC have also committed the municipal share of funding. Cell carriers will contribute the balance of funding to build new infrastructure.

The project also relies on the fibre optic network built during EORN's Phase 1 project to improve broadband access across the region. This fibre backbone can also support improved mobile services by providing added capacity to carry the data.

The goal is to provide 99% of the areas where there are homes, businesses and major roads with cell calling service. It will also further expand cell data coverage and capacity to support the use of typical smartphone apps and streaming video.

The project has the potential to:

  • Create more than 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs and spur $420 million in new business revenue over 10 years.
  • Improve safety so people aren't left stranded with “no signal.”
  • Provide greater choice to residents in areas where traditional broadband isn't available.
  • Ready the region for the next evolution of technology.

Read more about EORN's project to improve cell service and timelines for next steps


Cell Gap Project Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 Why do we need to improve cell service?

Dropped calls and spotty cell service are common across rural eastern Ontario. There are gaps in both cell coverage and capacity. At the same time, demand is growing as people depend more and more on smartphones and tablets for work, social connections, entertainment and to access public services. The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased demand for connectivity as more people work, socialize and access services from home.

We need to expand cell service to fill the gaps so that the region can compete economically. Reliable cell services across the region is also important for public safety.

 Is EORN still working to expand fixed broadband services?

EORN continues to work on further expanding fixed broadband services. It has completed a study to find out how to bring internet speeds of one gigabit per second (1 Gbps/1,000 Mbps) to homes and businesses in the region. It is talking to both the provincial and federal governments about how to reach that goal.

EORN’s initial project built a fibre-optic backbone and other infrastructure across the region that can be used to further improve both fixed and mobile broadband access.

 Why are we providing funding to telecommunications providers?

Building the infrastructure to serve a large, sparsely populated region is costly. By partnering with telecommunications providers, and providing some funding, we can improve their business case for investing in improved services.

This model has been effective. With EORN’s earlier broadband project, private sector partners contributed more than expected and then went on to invest on their own to further expand services – to the tune of about $100 million.

In addition to the cell project, we need to continue investing to meet the constantly growing demand for bandwidth. The EORN Gig Project would serve the region well into the future.

 When will cell services improve?

EORN launched an open, competitive procurement process to find telecommunications partners in April 2020. The process to receive and evaluate proposals will take about six to eight months. This process needs to be thorough and diligent to ensure good value and results.

Once construction begins, new services will come on in stages. The project is expected to complete by 2025.

 How did EORN decide where it would improve cell service?
To create a solution for eastern Ontario, EORN needed to map a “demand area,” which is where there are homes, businesses, and major roads. This is the area where EORN wants to see new or improved services. EORN used data from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) which is responsible for tax assessment of all properties across Ontario. MPAC has the most reliable and detailed data available on commercial, industrial and residential properties, including whether a property is multi-unit or seasonal, etc. This helped to model the cell capacity that would be needed to meet the demand for services. 
 Will there be more cell towers? 
The only way to deliver better cell service is through more towers. There will likely be some new towers and some smaller sites which serve a shorter range and are generally inconspicuous. There is still a lot of planning before we will know how many towers will be needed and what type. EORN is encouraging telecommunications service providers to share towers and use existing infrastructure to reduce the number of new towers needed.
 Who determines where towers go?
Tower locations are regulated by the federal government and all companies must comply with local zoning by-laws and follow local siting protocols. Municipal councils generally must provide agreement with a tower before it can be built. We won’t know the location of new tower sites until after we go through the procurement process.
 How is health and safety protected?
All Canadian telecommunication providers must build their mobile networks based on established industry standards and safety guidelines set out by Health Canada. Both Health Canada and the World Health Organization say that the exposure to radio frequency from cell towers is well below any health risk.