What can citizens, businesses, and municipalities do together – and now – to accelerate broadband-enabled growth in the Annapolis Valley? When the Valley REN put that question to more than 70 people yesterday afternoon at the Berwick Fire Hall, we heard a clear message.

Local businesses, politicians, and municipal staff told us that we have to work together to make the most of our existing broadband infrastructure, especially the Valley Community Fibre Network running alongside Highway 1, from Middleton to Halifax. We also heard that people want a champion to speak to government with one voice on the urgent and critical need for fair access to faster internet in our region.

Dan Mathieson, Mayor of the City of Stratford in Ontario, kick-started the conversation with an account of how that municipality has used a city-wide free wireless service to attract business and investment and create opportunities for growth. Inspired by the Stratford story, Kelly Ells, CEO at the Valley REN, led an enthusiastic discussion set in the context of our own specific challenges (geographic and political) and the opportunities created by the region’s existing broadband infrastructure.

The afternoon discussion followed a morning meeting of municipal leaders, who were invited by the Mayor of Berwick, Don Clarke, to hear from Mayor Mathieson. The mayors and wardens expressed their desire for the region to become recognized as the Smart Annapolis Valley.

The day’s events were hosted by i-Valley (i-Valley Intelligent Community Association) and the Valley REN.

Our team at the Valley REN will be continuing this conversation on social media over the coming months. We’re also forming a Sector Table on ICT (Information and Communications Technologies), to inform our next steps as we address current challenges and search for solutions through innovation and collaboration.