P.E.I. rolls out new details on high-speed internet for rural Islanders
‘I will reserve my celebrations until the connections are actually made’
P.E.I.'s minister responsible for the rollout of high-speed internet for rural Islanders admits the province "has been down this path many times."
But Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay believes the plan outlined Friday will deliver faster, more stable internet service to rural areas.
The plans by Bell and Xplornet are much more detailed than ever before.
Islanders will be able to plot the progress of the rural internet rollout right down to their specific street address through a web page set up by the province.
Bell plans to begin its work in Tignish and Rollo Bay beginning in late June. Bell wants to have its work completed within a year, by June 30, 2021, a plan even provincial officials describe as "very aggressive."
'We're going to be able to hold these companies to account'
The government hopes both companies will have everybody connected within three years.
But the contracts, which the province signed released on Friday, give the companies up to five years to complete their work.
"We're in a position now, with the contracts that we've done, that we're going to be able to hold these companies to account and Islanders will be getting high-speed internet in the near future," MacKay said in an interview with reporters following the announcement.
"It's the number one call I get. Islanders are frustrated that they don't have high-speed internet. We've got rural businesses trying to operate a business and they are having trouble doing it."
About 55,000 Island homes and businesses already have high-speed internet through Bell and Eastlink.
About 30,000 civic addresses either don't have internet or their internet connections do not meet the benchmarks that have been set out by the CRTC, 50 megabits per second download speeds, and 10 megabits per second upload speeds.
'I will reserve my celebrations'
Still, even with these contracts, not all Islanders will be connected.
The province says about three per cent of Islanders — down from seven or eight per cent — who live in remote areas of the province will still not be connected. That represents about 2,500 civic addresses.
Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, who was briefed on the program at the same time as the media, said "at last" Islanders have details on the rural high-speed internet rollout. He said it's been an ongoing frustration for so many people.
"We've had a number of iterations of this over the years where promises have been made that this is the solution, we're finally going to get high-speed internet for all Islanders, and, of course, it's fallen short, sometimes dramatically," said Bevan-Baker.
"So, I will reserve my celebrations until the connections are actually made. It's lovely to see the maps and they're pretty and they look very promising but I'm going to wait until we actually see internet service improve for Islanders from tip-to-tip before I breathe a sigh of relief and move on to something else."
The federal government is picking up almost half the cost of the program.
Ottawa is contributing $33 million while the province is picking up $3.5 million. The remainder, more than $37 million, will come from Bell Canada and Xplornet.
MacKay said the federal government and many other provinces are looking at what P.E.I. is doing as those provinces plan their rural internet roll out.
"I think you're going to start seeing a lot of other rural provinces look this way."
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