British Columbia

Rural B.C. leaders look to improve Internet access, as need grows amid COVID-19

Clearwater district staff are researching options to establish a local broadband Internet service.

With more people working and learning online, good Internet access is paramount

Internet access remains intermittent in Clearwater, B.C., which is creating problems for those who have had to move their work online amid COVID-19. (Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock)

Shelley Sim says accessing the Internet in the North Thompson region of B.C.'s Interior is "like hoping for a miracle."

"You get intermittent bursts of success only to turn around and go, 'Oh, that was short lived," she said. 

"We've got various degrees of service capability — it depends on where you are and what you might have. But it's like everybody crowding onto a bus, and when the bus is full, there's no second bus coming."

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when businesses, students and teachers were forced to move their activities online, they struggled with unpredictable Internet or none at all. 

That's why Sim, a Clearwater district councillor, is working with community leaders and businesses to improve Internet services for residents in her region. 

District staff are researching options to establish a broadband Internet service in Clearwater. They're looking at where new towers would go, how they cover the whole region and what exactly is needed to fill that communications gap, including costs. 

A recent survey found that 72 per cent of Clearwater businesses believe that communication infrastructure is the number one priority in order to either grow their business, attract new business and retain other businesses in the area. 

"It's an issue of paramount concern and that's for the business community not to mention our citizens that live and work here, [and] our students and what they're facing."

B.C.'s ministry of citizens' services, which oversees getting Internet into rural and remote communities, acknowledged the importance of reliable, high-speed Internet now, more than every before.

Minister Anne Kang said her government is working with local governments throughout B.C., including in the North Thompson, to help improve connectivity. 

"While the province cannot direct private telecommunications companies on where to invest, we continue to advocate for investments in areas like the North Thompson," Kang said. 

She also noted they are accepting project proposals for funding through the Connecting British Columbia program.

The province has been able to get Internet into some communities, but Sim said the North Thompson region hasn't seen any of that support. 

"One thing we're all clear on is that it's not working the way it is," Sim said. 

"We're probably going to be stronger by collectively creating something and maybe Clearwater does have to own its own vision for its success for the future."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops

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