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Northern Peninsula, N.L. residents seeking better Internet service

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File Photo - Stephen Roberts
ST. ANTHONY, N.L. —

Whether it’s a business trying to upload pictures, a child downloading a video game, or a film fan trying to stream a movie, it’s difficult for many residents on the Great Northern Peninsula to access the Internet.

Now, residents are lobbying for better connection and speeds.

Danny McLean of St. Anthony is one of the leaders of this quest. He created the Better Internet Services for Residents of the Great Northern Peninsula Facebook page in February. More than 700 residents have joined the group.

Currently, Bell Aliant is the main provider of Internet service in the region.

In an interview with The Northern Pen, McLean said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) suggests Canadian homes should have broadband Internet speeds of at least 50 megabytes per second (mbps) for downloads and 10 mbps for uploads.

Yet, residents on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula are toiling with speeds 10 times and even 50 times lower than that. And they’re still paying plenty for it.

McLean says he is charged $119 monthly for what Bell Aliant terms “ultra-high speed.” The best speeds he ever gets are around five to six mbps. Other residents have reported speeds of around one mbps for the same cost. They are supposed to receive seven mbps download speeds.

In contrast, the Fibe 100 package, available in St. John’s and other parts of the province, provides customers with 100 mbps download and upload speeds at a cost of just $72.95 a month, meaning customers are receiving about 20 to 100 times faster speeds at a cost nearly $40 less than what Great Northern Peninsula customers are paying monthly.

McLean says it’s unfair residents on the Great Northern Peninsula have to pay more for slower Internet. He believes the issue is the infrastructure – the DSL copper line – has not been upgraded since it was installed in the mid-2000s.

McLean feels, with the rise of cellular technology, Internet streaming, gaming and Smart TVs, as well as the addition of surrounding communities to St. Anthony’s network, the aging infrastructure can no longer handle needs of customers and provide speeds that meet CRTC standards.

He suggests the system needs to be upgraded to fibre optic to provide more capacity and better quality service for the St. Anthony region. Alternatively, he says, if Bell Aliant does not see a business case to upgrade the infrastructure, the company should reduce the cost for customers in this region.

“Living in rural Newfoundland and Labrador should not be an excuse to charge people above and beyond,” said McLean.

In the event nothing better is coming, he has also started looking at alternative technologies.

He cites Lawrencetown, N.S., as an example, saying the small town of about 700 people also suffered dismal Internet speeds. However, they managed to procure funding to erect two 90-ft. wireless towers on top of a 12-bundle fibre optic line. Each customer then installs a dish window which picks up the signal from the towers. They are able to provide 15 mbps and 50 mbps packages and everyone pays it back through the municipality.

McLean believes something like that should be explored in a town like St. Anthony.

St. Anthony Mayor Desmond McDonald agrees the network is congested and the “old” infrastructure needs to be upgraded to fibre optic.

He says the town has written letters in the past to Bell Aliant and the CRTC requesting the upgrade.

Town council is once again submitting a letter to Long Range Mountains MP Gudie Hutchings, St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore, Bell Aliant and the CRTC to express concerns again. McLean has also drafted a letter to Mitchelmore.

The Northern Pen contacted Bell Aliant asking if there are any plans to upgrade the system in St. Anthony. The company said it had technicians run speed tests in St. Anthony, including at peak usage times. They say the network is “delivering the speeds for the service levels available in the area.”

McLean maintains, however, “These speeds have not been up to the levels their infrastructure is supposed to deliver,” as many residents are not getting the seven mbps download speeds advertised by Bell Aliant.

He says this is a problem, not just in St. Anthony, but in many other rural communities.

Bell Aliant added speeds will vary for individual customers, “depending on how many devices in the home are connected and the type of usage (multiple devices streaming video for example) as well as the distance from our facilities.”

Bell Aliant encourages customers experiencing issues to contact them for assistance.

Federal funding for broadband Internet in Budget 2019

Last week, in its budget for 2019-20, the federal government proposed a new plan – and funding of more than $5 billion – to deliver more Internet to Canadians through rural broadband over the next 10 years.

 “. . .  the Government is announcing its commitment to set a national target, in which 95 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses will have access to internet speeds of at least 50/10 Mbps by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030, no matter where they are located in the country,” the budget stated. “This is in keeping with the broadband Internet speed objective set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for Canadian households and businesses across Canada.”

That’s not the only funding available to provide high speed Internet to rural communities.

In its budget document, the federal government also noted the CRTC recently launched its own five-year $750 million Broadband Fund to improve Internet access in underserved areas.

“The CRTC’s Broadband Fund aligns with the Government’s priorities and will include a focus on providing last-mile connectivity and provision of wireless coverage in unserved areas, and where projects are not financially viable without CRTC funding.”

Following the reveal of the budget, St. Anthony Mayor Desmond McDonald said the town will continue to push for better Internet and plans to apply for money again this year to improve local service.

With the new funding announced in the federal budget he’s hopeful this time the town’s application will be successful.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

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