Expansion of high-speed internet not speedy enough, say rural Nova Scotians
'The need is just as great in every community,' says Develop Nova Scotia
With many people working from home and moving to Nova Scotia for remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, some say high-speed internet services can't come fast enough.
David Greenwell, an architectural consultant living just outside Mabou, is among those eager to switch from a spotty internet connection.
He said he's lost job contracts that require a constant connection such as cloud computing. His current upload speeds average between 1.5 and two megabits per second — about enough for basic emailing.
"My connection simply does not have the horsepower," said Greenwell, whose wife, Michelle, also operates a home-based business.
About 10 per cent more homes and businesses in Nova Scotia have access to high-speed internet since projects were launched last February.
A provincewide initiative aims to expand to as many homes and businesses as possible by 2023. A provincial trust fund of $193 million was established by the Liberal government in 2018 to achieve that goal.
Develop Nova Scotia is managing the province's high-speed internet initiative and says coverage has been expanded to 80 per cent of the population. A list of project schedules is available on its website.
Greenwell said it's a "real kick in the gut" that his community is still waiting for better service.
Upgrades in Mabou are expected to be completed by May 2022.
'Need is just as great in every community''
"We have not prioritized communities over any other, because the need is just as great in every community and in every location," said Deborah Page, a spokesperson for Develop Nova Scotia.
Instead, the Crown corporation's approved service providers have suggested which projects can move forward first or as quickly as possible.
Page said the projects involve hanging about 12,000 kilometres of fibre across the province.
"A lot of the work happens not out there by crews, but inside by designers and engineers and technical people who design the work before it ever gets seen on the streets and road," she said.
In total, there are about 3,000 residences across the province where high-speed solutions are still being sought, Page said.
Bill Murphy, a computer science and artificial intelligence consultant who lives in Judique, said he's worked on projects similar to the ones fanning out across the province.
A member of the Inverness County internet committee, Murphy said Develop Nova Scotia has put a lot of effort into making its rollout easier, but he believes the work could be expedited.
He's heard of people turning away opportunities to live on Cape Breton Island because certain areas won't offer high-speed internet until 2023.
"The fundamental issue that makes this go faster is more crews pulling cable and more teams making the connections," he said.
Murphy said the Municipality of the County of Inverness has applied to the federal government's universal broadband fund for 500 Starlink terminals that could provide low-Earth orbit broadband service to the region.
Fair pricing concerns
Murphy said there concerns that Bell Canada has an unfair advantage as the project's only high-speed provider for rural Cape Breton.
"In Halifax, Bell Canada has many competitors. In Inverness County, they have none," he said. "We want to make sure pricing is also fair."
Bell spokesperson Katie Hatfield said prices could vary across the province depending on the technology and products available in a location.