CRTC goal for high-speed Internet welcome in rural NS

By Lois Ann Dort    

Last week it took Bill Carpan, former Guysborough Journal column contributor Stillwater Slim, of Stillwater, Guysborough County six minutes to download a copy of the Guysborough Journal. This snail’s pace high-speed Internet service story is common in rural Nova Scotia but a recent policy announcement by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) offers some hope for the future of high-speed Internet in rural communities across Canada.

On December 21, 2016, the CRTC released a policy document called Modern telecommunications services – The path forward for Canada’s digital economy. The highlight of the report for those living in rural communities was the announcement of a $750 million fund to help these communities reach a minimum broadband Internet service speed of at least 50 Mbps for downloads (data that consumers are receiving from the Internet, including files, web sites, pictures, music, and movies) and 10 Mbps for uploads (data that consumers are sending to the Internet) by 2021.

In a recent press release Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman and CEO, CRTC, stated, “Access to broadband Internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive. Canadians who participated during our process told us that no matter where they live or work in our vast country — whether in a small town in northern Yukon, a rural area of eastern Quebec or in downtown Calgary — everyone needs access to high-quality fixed Internet and mobile services. We are doing our part to bring broadband services to rural and remote communities.”

Fifty Mbps of download capability is far beyond what Carpan currently has at home. “1.5 Mbps, that is the very bottom of the scale for what would be called high-speed Internet,” Carpan said, adding, “We have high-speed Internet but just barely.”

That low-end high speed has a major impact on Carpan’s life. “I’m pretty much a shut in now,” he said. “I am handicapped and I do everything I can online -- banking and everything.

“Many of the services have time outs and sometimes you just can’t use it because it times out on you. That is frustrating when you are filling out long forms and you get to the bottom and it times out,” he said.

Speaking to the CRTC announcement Carpan said, “I think their goal is very reasonable. I think it is the kind of thing that Canadians want and should have.”

Increased Internet speeds will make a significant change in the lives of rural Nova Scotians and people who are considering becoming rural residents. “It will make it possible for more people to work from home,” said Carpan. Businesses facilitated by the Internet are part of the infrastructure required to maintain and gain population in rural areas.

And Carpan looks forward to the prospect of increased entertainment opportunities. “It will be a great improvement for entertainment. We get all our television now from the Internet and it is a great improvement over what is available from the cable companies.”

In the last 10 years there have been improvements in rural Internet service, very few people in rural Nova Scotia still rely on dial-up. But use of the Internet has also changed during that time. It has become an intricate part of our everyday lives and many people depend on it for accessing government services. It is this change in function, from novelty to necessity, that Carpan believes will make achievement of these these new goals more likely.

“I think the pressures will be much greater to reach a goal like the CRTC is putting out there because people are getting more and more dependent on the Internet all the time. The CRTC is saying that it is a service that everyone must have – it must be available to everyone, like the telephone, and that is something new,” said Carpan.

Despite this new policy announcement there remain hurdles for rural Internet users. One which was highlighted in the CRTC policy report was the lack of competition in the service provider market. In rural Nova Scotia there may be only one or two providers while in urban areas there is an average of seven.

There is also a price differential. The CRTC policy report states, “The price of 5 Mbps Internet service in rural communities varied from lows of between $25 and $70 per month, and highs of between $70 and $93 per month.” Levelling out the cost of Internet service is another necessary step in the direction of Internet service equality.

If in five years rural Nova Scotians have access to 50 Mbps Internet service, many, including Bill Carpan, will be thanking the CRTC for the push towards that reality initiated in the last days of 2016.

The full policy report from the CRTC can be found at http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2016/2016-496.htm.