High-speed internet a 'basic right,' says premier as connection projects announced

The Nova Scotia government will spend $1.4 million to connect 5,400 homes and 420 businesses to high-speed internet in the next six months.

Taxpayers to spend $1.4M to connect 5,400 homes and 420 businesses in next 6 months

Anthony Organ of Sweetland, N.S., takes the podium at an announcement by the province that it will spend $1.4 million to connect 5,400 homes to high-speed internet. (Paul Withers/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government will spend $1.4 million to connect 5,400 homes and 420 businesses to high-speed internet in the next six months.

The 22 projects announced Monday are an attempt to address persistent complaints in rural Nova Scotia that download speeds are too slow and internet connections unreliable.

"It's frustrating," said Anne Nauss, a businesswoman in the rural community of Sweetland in Lunenburg County.

"It's so bad sometimes I'd like to take a shotgun to the tower," added Wendy Nauss, also of Sweetland.

Sherry Veinot helps co-ordinate search and rescue in Lunenburg County. She said the internet is so bad outside Bridgewater she could not download an important PDF from St. John Ambulance.

All three women — and many more people with similar complaints — were at the nearby Northfield District Fire Hall Monday to hear Premier Stephen McNeil announce funding for projects that will connect nearly two dozen communities to high-speed internet.

"Your provincial government is listening, our municipal partners are listening and entrepreneurs are providing solutions for what is a basic right as Nova Scotians and as Canadians and that is access to high-speed internet," McNeil said.

Anatomy of a project

In the case of Sweetland, the province is providing $75,000 and the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg will contribute $60,000 for the construction of two towers that will deliver high-speed internet to 288 homes.

It will also provide WiFi at a community centre or fire hall.

The internet service provider, NCS, will be expected to meet service levels when it upgrades to 15 megabits per second, up from the 1.5 Mbps or no connection.

Mayor Carolyn Boliver Getson said the municipality is considering Sweetland as a pilot project.

"Access to reliable high-speed internet is not a luxury. We cannot afford to leave it to the marketplace. I know too many people who cannot sell their homes because they do not have internet," Bolivar-Getson said.

$6M set aside this year

Not all of the projects involve building transmission towers. A number will see the installation of fibre optic cable in communities.

In November 2016 the McNeil government said it would spend $6 million for small projects like these to bring high-speed internet into rural areas.

The Municipal and Community Rural High-Speed Internet Funding Program still has $3.5 million remaining and the Liberal government said more project announcements are pending in the next budget year.

The province says the next round of projects will roll out after it releases its long term strategy, a project dubbed "brightstar."

The government is also waiting on details from Ottawa's Connect to Innovate program.

The internet access event was one of six spending announcements made by Liberal government politicians on Monday.

The tempo of spending announcements has ramped up in recent weeks, as the Liberals have seen their polling numbers dip after a dispute with the province's teachers.

McNeil said the announcements are not connected to an imminent election call.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.