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A cell tower stands outside the Rogers Communications headquarters in Toronto on March 15, 2021.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Rogers Communications Inc. has beaten out Bell Mobility Inc. for a contract to build hundreds of cellphone towers that will service a swath of 113 municipalities in Eastern Ontario.

Rogers will invest more than $150-million in the project, a public-private partnership with the federal government, the province of Ontario and the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), a non-profit aimed at improving connectivity in the region.

The federal and provincial governments are each investing $71-million, while the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, which started EORN, and the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus are contributing a combined $10-million to the project.

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In total, the endeavour, which involves building 300 new cellular towers and upgrading 350 existing ones, will cost more than $300-million. That makes it the largest public-private partnership in Canadian wireless history, according to Rogers.

“This allows us to reach areas that we normally couldn’t because they’re far off the beaten track,” said Dean Prevost, president of Connected Home and Rogers for Business, divisions of Rogers that serve businesses and public-sector clients.

“When it’s done in 2025, this will be an enormous expansion to what exists there today,” Mr. Prevost said. Local residents and businesses can expect to start seeing service improvements by the end of the year, he added.

The project will not only bring service to wireless dead zones in the region, it will also accelerate the rate at which the municipalities get 5G service, Mr. Prevost said. The project will include areas such as Kingston, Belleville, Kawartha Lakes and Prince Edward County.

The contract is the culmination of a long-running effort by EORN, which spent the better part of two years mapping out gaps in the region’s wireless coverage.

“You can drive in some places for 10, 20, 60 or more kilometres in some spots and not have any signal whatsoever,” said Jim Pine, the chief administrative officer for Hastings County and an EORN co-lead.

That’s especially problematic in emergency situations, where someone driving down a stretch of highway might not be able to place a 911 call, Mr. Pine said.

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“People need to be able to connect, but there are places where you just can’t right now,” he said. “We’re going to fix that.”

Mr. Pine said the contract was awarded through a public procurement process. There were two bidders – Rogers and Bell Mobility, a division of BCE Inc. “Both were excellent proposals ... but the Rogers bid was the preferred bid for us.”

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