The City of New Westminster brings high-speed broadband service to residents and local businesses

Always building for the future, the City of New Westminster is moving forward with a multimillion-dollar project that will provide businesses and residents with rapid broadband service

The city at the geographic heart of Metro Vancouver is poised to take a central role in B.C.’s technological future.

For now, it’s laying the groundwork—literally. The City of New Westminster is currently putting the finishing touches on a $7-million network of underground fibre. By this fall, BridgeNet, a municipally owned, open-access broadband network, will connect the city’s main business areas, running from Highway 1, through downtown, and over the Queensborough Bridge.

The city plans to lease its fibre to telecommunications companies and Internet service providers, which will then be able to deliver lightning-fast broadband to end users, at competitive prices.

“We’re installing the infrastructure so that these companies can come in and offer businesses and multi-dwelling units located along the fibre loop access to high-speed network—connecting customers in an affordable way,” says Blair Fryer, New Westminster com-munications and economic development manager. High-speed connectivity is essential to a spectrum of applications, from software development and visual effects to teleconferencing and robotic remote surgery.

BridgeNet is the linchpin in the city’s Intelligent City Initiative, a plan to transition the local economy away from its traditionally industrial base. Based on a model developed by The Intelligent Community Forum—a New York-based non-profit policy research organization—similar plans have been successfully implemented in cities such as Stratford, Ont., and Riverside, Calif. The model includes measures to stimulate growth, create jobs, open up digital access for citizens and improve livability.

“The basic notion is that there has to be a fibre network in place, and the city owns that network, the same way it owns the roads,” says Councillor Bill Harper, co-chair of the Intelligent City Advisory Committee. Fibre leasing offers a healthy source of non-taxation revenue for the city, while ultimately attracting knowledge-based businesses to the area.

Of course, plenty of tech firms and businesses have already cottoned on to New West in recent years. The city represents an affordable alternative to Vancouver’s Gastown and Yaletown, where fibre is plentiful and relatively inexpensive—but leases tend to be the opposite. Nicholas Boughen, owner of CG Masters School of 3D Animation and Visual Effects, set up shop in New Westminster four years ago, attracted by Intelligent City, and the city’s collaborative approach to development.

“I don’t think you could find a more supportive city government for data and knowledge-based industry. They’re unbelievable,” he says, adding his business will be “first in line” to look at high-speed data offerings made possible by BridgeNet.

The new network comes on the heels of several urban-revitalization projects that have transformed New Westminster: Anvil Centre, a new conference centre and office tower opened in 2014, the slick Trapp Block condo development and the thriving Brewery District, to name a few. 

“Everything we’ve been doing over the last 10 years is finally starting to gel, to the point where it’s attracting young, family-oriented professionals,” says Harper.

Combined with relatively affordable leases and housing, it’s a tempting package for new businesses, and those pondering relocation. Harper also points to New West’s small-town feel (the local population of 70,000 covers just 15 square kilometres) and preserved historic downtown—offering all the tony brick buildings a tech startup could crave.

High-speed fibre completes the package. As Paul Romein, CEO and owner of Techno Monkey Media, a new-media production company based in New Westminster, puts it: “It’s a huge, huge selling point for tech companies moving into New West and investing here.”