Bell MTS delivering on 5-year, $1B infrastructure plan, but rural internet still lacking

It's been just over one year since Bell's takeover of MTS officially took place and while the new Bell MTS has started to make good on a promise to spend $1 billion on infrastructure in the next five years, accessing basic internet service in some parts of rural Manitoba is still an issue.

Complaints of slow speeds, choppy connections frustrate rural residents

Bell MTS says it will invest $1 billion in five years into network infrastructure in Manitoba. But some rural residents say they're still struggling to access the internet. (Denis Rozhnovsky/Shutterstock)

It's been just over one year since Bell's takeover of MTS officially took place and while the new Bell MTS has started to make good on a promise to spend $1 billion on infrastructure in the next five years, accessing basic internet service in some parts of rural Manitoba is still an issue.

"It is absolute garbage," said Erin Eissner, who lives near the communities of Elgin and Hartney, in southwest Manitoba. 

Eissner said her bill can run as high as $250 with her internet service provider for a slow connection that often cuts in and out. Options are limited to access the internet in areas outside of towns and cities. 

Bell MTS doesn't offer high-speed internet coverage in Eissner's area, leaving her to choose between using cell phone data or the one company that operates in her area. 

"We went two weeks without the internet ... then they tried to charge us for the two weeks we didn't have," she said. "They say it's supposed to be fast, it's not fast." 

"You have to use it sparsely at most just to make it through the month," she said, adding that there are also caps on the amount of data customers can use. 

Hamiota connected to fibre optics

However, there are exceptions. 

The Hamiota, Yellowhead and Prairie View municipalities and the Park West School Division joined forces to form their own non-profit internet co-operative and have started hooking up town and rural residents, as well as businesses, to a new fibre optic network.

"The rural side of it is very well received," said Tom Mollard, CAO of the Hamiota municipality. "It's cheaper and faster than anything else that's available to them right now."

Mollard believes the "vast majority" of rural residents will be hooked up to the co-operative's wireless internet by the summer. Currently, 35 rural properties are hooked up to the system, which provides speeds up to 90 megabits per second.

In Hamiota, 120 of the town's approximately 400 properties are now hooked up to a fibre optic connection that provides anywhere from 630 to 840 megabits per second, said Mollard. Another 80 properties are on a waiting list to have the fibre line connected from the street to their homes.

"The biggest thing is dependability," said Mollard. "In a lot of cases, there was service interruptions with previous providers that people have had to deal with." 

Mollard said the days of residents clicking 'download', going for coffee and coming back later are over.
"When you're doing downloading of large files, transferring large data files, it works in a heartbeat," he said. 

Mollard said other towns and municipalities have reached out to Hamiota to learn more about its fibre optic project in recent months, in the hope of setting up their own systems.

Eissner said she'd like to see some competition move into her area to better her family's chances at a stable internet connection. 

"It's almost criminal," she said. "It's ridiculous." 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Bell MTS told CBC News that the company is in the process of delivering on its five-year, $1 billion investment in Manitoba.

To date, the company said it has undertaken a number of wireless and advanced LTE projects across Manitoba and has also rolled out Fibe internet to a number of communities.