By Connor Lynch
ARISS — British-born hobby farmer Philip Mullis lives in Ariss, a little community in Guelph-Emarosa township. An ex-pat of the technology sector, Mullis was shocked when he moved in to grow apples and raise chickens and couldn’t get a decent internet connection for a decent price.
So he started his own company. Now, government-backed competition is moving into town.
Mullis launched Wireless Farm, funded out of his own pocket, to connect rural folks with decent internet services. He said he “hounded” the township for access to water towers to attach wireless services to them in December of 2018. Now he’s focused on putting in fibre-optic cable, a more stable but expensive option.
“I wanted to do city-grade (internet) out in the country. (I’ve heard of) little old grannies getting charged $200 for satellite internet,” Mullis said.
But Ontario’s public-private partnership, the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology project, is moving in. The feds, province and private industry each ponied up about $64 million, with municipalities tossing in another $17 million, to bring rural communities in Southwestern Ontario up to speed on the internet. The not-for-profit corporation announced four projects in Wellington County, including one in Mullis’ home base of Ariss.
Mullis was doubly annoyed by the announcement. He met with SWIFT last fall to discuss his work and the relative need (or lack thereof) of wireless services. Mullis told Farmers Forum that he has nearly 100 wireless subscribers, and a neighbouring company doing similar work has about 300. Said Mullis: “I’ve spent a tremendous effort getting things done.”
But SWIFT wasn’t convinced it’d be enough. Communications manager Melissa O’Brien told Farmers Forum that Mullis “was unable to demonstrate with any degree of certainty that he would be able to put in fibre (optic cable).”
Mullis fired back that the SWIFT projects for his area skip out on the rural routes, the ones with the greatest need. “When I look at the fibre maps, they’re not running it down rural roads, just down main stretches. The actual farmer is still going to be shafted.” That makes the fact that SWIFT considered his area unserved especially galling. “They told me the day of their press release that they consider the area not served. How can you consider an area with multiple providers, two private companies running wire, not serviced?
“I have one customer here, completely surrounded by trees.” Normally you’d to have to build a tower taller than the trees, but Mullis instead did a custom job: He used a lower-frequency transmitter with waves broad enough to wind through the forest, rather than bump into the dense foliage. Before his new service, that customer paid as much as $2,500 in one month for wireless service, Mullis said.
But he’s not giving up. “I’m already waist-deep in it. I know I can provide better service than anyone else.” At the very least, Mullis said, he wanted to get the word out about SWIFT. “Just to make sure this fund gets managed better to make sure rural areas get serviced, not just houses.”
WESTERN ONTARIO: Internet access was crap so he started a company to serve his rural community
By Connor Lynch