Improved internet access is coming to people living in rural northeastern Nova Scotia after the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced Monday a $2 million repayable loan to Sydney-based Seaside Wireless Communications.

Rodger Cuzner, MP for Cape Breton-Canso, made the announcement at the Ben Eoin ski hill, which is the site of one of 400 towers Seaside operates across northeastern Nova Scotia.

Cuzner said the money will go toward equipment upgrades to enable Seaside to provide faster download speeds to about 15,000 customers over the next three years.

"I hear all the time from constituents, 'We want to stay, we want to live, we have friends that want to relocate to rural communities,'" said Cuzner.  

"Many want to continue to operate business in those communities. But without access to high-speed internet, it does little to enable them to make that decision."

Faster speeds

Rodger Cuzner

Rodger Cuzner said the money will go toward equipment upgrades to enable Seaside Wireless Communications to provide increased download speeds to about 15,000 customers over the next three years. (Holly Conners/CBC)

Cuzner said upgrades will see download speeds increase to a minimum of five Mbps. He said the company will also improve its signal coverage and network system reliability.

Through the Broadband for Rural Nova Scotia initiative, Seaside built a basic wireless internet service in the 10 counties east of Halifax.

Loran Tweedie, chief executive officer of Seaside, said the company has reached 99 per cent of the people who requested service under that program.

"They went from dial-up speeds to where we are right now, which is 1.5 Mbps, which is a quantum leap," he said.  

"But at the household level, you've got an exponential growth in terms of bandwidth requirements. And what's needed in order to keep pace with that is to go through a series of upgrades."

Tweedie said the total cost of the project is about $18 million. He said customers will have the option to upgrade their service to five Mbps at a cost of about $7 per month.

Tweedie said five Mbsp is the benchmark set under the federal government's Connecting Canadians program, but adds 
Seaside is installing gear to allow for 25 Mbps.

"We want to get far enough ahead of the curve so that people can enjoy good quality speeds, good quality reliability for the foreseeable future," he said.