Liberal MPs promise better internet speeds for Inverness County
Federal minister says Liberal government working on new universal broadband fund for rural areas
After meeting with federal MPs on Friday, business owners in Inverness County, N.S., say they are feeling hopeful that rural internet speeds will improve soon.
Sara Rankin, owner of a digital design and e-commerce business in Mabou, said she pays for high-speed internet, but doesn't get it.
She and a group of Inverness business owners and citizens started an online campaign to get better upload and download speeds.
They've been hearing what Rankin called "heartbreaking" stories from people, such as doctors and others, pondering leaving the area because they can't access high-speed internet.
"People's livelihoods are completely dependent, 100 per cent, on the internet, so you can't really mess with that ... and this is not something that we can wait around 10 years for somebody to fix," Rankin said.
"We want something done as soon as possible. No more of these long-term plans. We want to know what they're doing now."
Rankin was in the news last year, saying she has to sit outside of the local high school to access wireless internet with speeds sufficient to meet her business needs.
According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the minimum target speed for all Canadians should be 50 megabits per second download and 10 Mbps upload.
People in Inverness County say they are getting average speeds of less than five Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload.
The group that included MLA Allan MacMaster, Inverness County officials and others from the Judique and District Development Association, met in Judique on Friday with federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan and Cape Breton-Canso Liberal MP Mike Kelloway.
Rankin said the group got a good hearing and the MPs listened. They also mentioned a new funding program is coming that will expand broadband access into rural areas.
"They're not yet able to release some of the details to the public, but we're excited to hear there's something in the works," Rankin said.
Jordan, a former minister of rural economic development, said that department is working on a new universal broadband fund as the next phase of the Liberal government's connectivity strategy.
"That will be coming out soon and it's going to address a lot of the concerns we're hearing in rural communities," she said.
Accessing broadband has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with people at home getting health care, education and entertainment online.
High-speed internet is "more than something that people have for just entertainment," Jordan said.
"It is our life and we need to make sure that we get it into rural communities."
She said the government is working to get money out the door quickly, but she could not provide a timeline.
"This is not an easy fix," Jordan said. "It's not something that we can just flip a switch and tomorrow everyone's got the speeds they want."
Kelloway acknowledged the government has been hearing people's concerns for some time and called high-speed internet "a top-tier priority and a top-tier need."
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With files from Matthew Moore