A group of municipalities in Eastern Ontario announced Monday that it has awarded a local contract connecting almost 80,000 homes and businesses to fixed wireless services. The group, called the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus, awarded the contract to rural broadband satellite provider Xplornet Communications Inc. The services will cover Prince Edward County, most of the southern half of Hastings and Lennox and Addington counties, as well as a westerly portion of Frontenac County in Ontario, a release said. The fixed wireless Internet service will be available by fall 2012, the release said. Under the contract, which is the second from the caucus for Xplornet Communications, the provider will expand its fixed wireless network over an area covering about 7,000 square kilometres. The contract is part of a $170-million Eastern Ontario regional broadband project, which is funded by federal, provincial and municipal governments and the private sector. The project involves the construction of a 5,500-kilometre fibre optic network supplemented by high-speed satellite Internet services. By the fall of 2012, service packages will be available that range from 1.5 Mbps to up to 10 Mbps, the release said. Critics have called the $170-million project a “handout” to incumbent provider BCE Inc., but the wardens' caucus says the contract for Bell was awarded through a fair and transparent competition.