PEI

Why governments are spending more money to fix rural P.E.I.'s internet problem

The P.E.I. government says it's trying to keep up with the changing expectations of the CRTC. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission declared broadband internet a basic service for Canadians.

Xplornet, contracted to improve speeds in rural areas, just finished work in past year

The P.E.I. government is looking for companies to improve internet speeds in rural areas, just as another company, Xplornet, finished that work across the Island. (Laura Meader/CBC )

For those ever frustrated by slow internet in parts of rural P.E.I., the story line may seem familiar. 

Not to worry, says government, we have a plan to help you. We'll pay broadband internet companies to encourage them to expand into your area.  

That is what the Island government just announced this month, as it put out the call to companies to step up and boost speeds for the 31,000 households government considers underserved.

Meanwhile — another company, contracted by the federal government — just finished that exact task in the past year. 

Xplornet was awarded a federal government contract in 2015 to boost internet speeds in rural P.E.I. The company says its service is now available across the Island. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The federal government committed to paying Xplornet Communications Inc. up to $1.6 million dollars to bring broadband internet to underserved households on P.E.I. 

Now, with a satellite and 22 towers installed across the province, Xplornet says its wireless high speed network is available to just about everyone on the Island — rural and urban. 

"We did deliver on that commitment by early 2018 to deliver service to virtually all households in Prince Edward Island, and we hope Islanders, by and large, are happy with the service being provided," said James Maunder, Xplornet's Vice-President of Public Affairs. 

Joe Rowledge, a senior policy advisor with P.E.I.'s economic development department, says any internet companies awarded contracts will need to provide download speeds of 50 mbps by 2021. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

CRTC changed speed expectations 

So, why is the province already on the hunt for more internet companies to get to work in rural P.E.I.?

The P.E.I. government says, unfortunately, less than a year after Xplornet finished setting up on the Island, what it currently offers is not fast enough to meet the eventual expectations of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

"In general terms, we were down here [with our speeds], Xplornet's come in and delivered service to this mid level, but we do want to reach the higher level that CRTC has an objective out there for," said Joe Rowledge, a senior policy advisor with P.E.I.'s economic development department. 

It just requires more and more bandwidth, more horsepower to drive all those things connected through the internet- Joe Rowledge, Senior Policy Advisor, PEI economic development department 

When Xplornet signed its contract with the federal government three years ago, the company says it committed to offering download speeds of up to 25 Mbps (megabits per second).

However, a year after Xplornet signed that contract, the industry's federal regulator — the CRTC — declared broadband internet a basic service for Canadians, and raised the bar for what it considered an acceptable download speed. 

That benchmark went from 5 Mbps to 50 — ten times faster. 

By 2021, the CRTC said, 90 per cent of Canadians should have access to that speed. 

'A good benchmark'

Rowledge said the P.E.I. government wants to fall in line with that objective. So any company awarded a contract under its new RFP will have to guarantee it can provide a download speed of more than 25 Mbps now, and at least 50 by 2021. 

"I mean just look at the devices in homes now. I think last year at Christmas, one of the most popular gifts was Google Home," said Rowledge. "It just requires more and more bandwidth, more horsepower to drive all those things connected through the internet.  So we feel this is a good benchmark to reach for, a good objective to reach for."

The network that we built on P.E.I. will be entirely capable to meet and exceed the speeds of the CRTC- James Maunder, VP of Public Affairs, Xplornet Communications Inc. 

Xplornet's VP of Public Affairs won't reveal how many Islanders have signed on with the company, except to say that "we're happy with the take up."

Maunder added Islander's can expect up to 25 Mbps now, and even faster speeds in the near future. "The network that we built on P.E.I. will be entirely capable to meet and exceed the speeds of the CRTC," said Maunder. "All I can say is stay tuned in the months ahead."

Still, Rowledge said the hope is to avoid having to pay more money to new companies every few years, just to keep up with the ever changing speed standards. 

He said government will keep that in mind, as it looks through company's proposals. 

"We're setting that 50 megabit benchmark, but we're cognisant of the fact it's not going to stop there," he said. "We're trying to ensure the solution has the ability to scale. That's just kind of our minimum threshold we're looking for, and we definitely wouldn't be opposed to an improvement even over that."

Companies have until Oct. 12 to submit their plans to the provincial government. The goal is to have service agreements in place by the end of this year, so that work can begin in early 2019. 

About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.

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