N.S. rural broadband delayed months

It will be at least another five months before all Nova Scotians have access to high-speed internet, despite a promise by providers to have it done by the new year.

It will be at least another five months before all Nova Scotians have access to high-speed internet, despite a promise by providers to have it done by the new year.

May is the new target date, though even that deadline isn't firm, a committee of the legislature heard Wednesday.

"That's what we're discussing with the companies. So is there something that could intervene and that could prevent that from happening? Perhaps there is. But that's where we're heading," said Ian Thompson, deputy minister of economic and rural development, the department responsible for the project.

Thompson told the public accounts committee that two of the three companies involved are not on target and could face penalties for not meeting the Dec. 31 deadline.

He said the cable companies had trouble getting access to the transmission towers.

Opposition MLA Chuck Porter said the cable companies should be made to pay for failing to meet their deadlines.

"Ask the taxpayers, they'll be more than happy to get $2 million of their money back," he said. "We've invested hugely as taxpayers for this and if they can't make the agreement they signed off saying they could do it, you know, that's business."

Tens of millions invested

The federal and provincial governments have invested $35 million to provide broadband to 200,000 people in rural areas. Two partner companies, EastLink and Seaside Communications, have put up another $40 million.

Last month, CBC News was told that only OmniGlobe Networks, the company hired to connect rural residents in the Halifax region, would have full coverage by the new year.

Seaside Communications, whose zone covers the province's nine northern counties, said it expected to be around 94 per cent complete by the end of December.

"We are comfortable the remaining six per cent of their coverage will be completed in the early months of 2010," said Mary Jane Fumerton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic and Rural Development.

She said EastLink, whose zone covers the southern half of the province, is expected to have only 45 per cent of their portion complete by the end of the year.

"We have their new project plan in hand and have looked at the risks being faced, including possible weather problems," Fumerton said, adding that the department believes EastLink will be able to complete the upgrades to their zone by the end of May.

All companies have penalty clauses, with the target date being one of the reasons a penalty could be charged.

Fumerton said the original proposal stated that up to $500,000 per zone could be charged, up to a maximum of $2 million per company.

Currently, about six per cent of Nova Scotians do not have access to broadband.