Nfld. & Labrador

Internet advocate questions 'broadband' expansion, tech group lauds provincewide investment

Spreading internet accessibility is a must, but a minimum speed of five megabits per second misses the mark, says Laura Tribe of OpenMedia.

Minimum speed lags behind standards, but is step in right direction, says OpenMedia

Laura Tribe, executive director of Open Media, says the investment could have been better served in Newfoundland and Labrador if the bare minimum for service were set higher. (CBC )

While internet expansion into rural Newfoundland and Labrador is a positive step, it's a stretch to call it "broadband," says a group that fights for universal internet access.

The provincial government says 99 per cent of the province will have access to speeds of at least five megabits per second after a $40-million upgrade.

Laura Tribe, executive director of OpenMedia, says that speed is a far cry from the modern standard of high speed or broadband internet.

"Five megabits [per second] for a download speed is so low," she said. "That's the target [the CRTC] set in 2011."

In 2016, the CRTC upped the standard for broadband internet to 50 megabits per second.

"It's better than nothing," Tribe said of the lower speed. "But when you go to stream video or some of the things that are so common for the rest of us … it can really be slower."

According to Bell Aliant's website, downloading a high-definition movie would take 85 minutes at five megabits per second, as opposed to nine minutes at 50.

Business group pleased with expansion of service

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries expressed their approval of the plan in a press release Wednesday.

The group consists of some of the biggest businesses in the province, including Bell Aliant, Newfoundland Power and Memorial University.

It also consists of smaller tech companies, which it hopes to see more of as internet access spreads.

"From a business perspective, that means there are now opportunities that would have otherwise not existed," the release reads. "This is particularly important to NATI and its members, and to the provincial economy as a whole."

The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries is lauding the expansion of internet services, and hopes it leads to more members in their organization.

And despite speeds being low for now, the equipment will be in place for future upgrades in remote areas of the province, the group said.

"As a result of this announcement, the necessary backbone infrastructure will be put into place to not only support this particular investment, but it will also be able to support any future investments in high-speed internet in these areas."

Will it be upgraded?

Tribe agrees the increased access to the internet has incredible potential and should be established as a basic right.

However, she points to the high cost of expanding into remote areas as a deterrent from upgrading services in the future.

As a result, she says, the government should have sprung for more than five megabits per second.

"When you're putting forward speeds that are so low, for a community that is unlikely to be seeing upgrades or reinvestment any time soon, we really want to make sure if we're doing this, we're doing it right," she said. 

"And not leaving other people behind or leaving them a Band-Aid solution that's not going to be fixed any time soon."

Streaming with five megabits per second can be a challenge, but it's far better than the alternative in many rural Newfoundland and Labrador towns. (Rasulov/Shutterstock)

The province has not released the full list of the 70 communities slated to see improved service. Some will see upgrades to their existing service, while others will be connected to something better than dial-up for the first time.

Of the $24.8 million put forward by the feds, $22 million is for "backbone infrastructure that will bring fibre to communities, connect institutions and indirectly improve existing internet connections," a government spokesperson said.

Therefore, the cost per household is far less than the $26,000 reported after Tuesday's news conference. The federal portion works out to $1,867 per household.

Work is expected to begin next summer.

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.