Feds could help small towns get broadband faster: MHA

Shawn Hayward
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With many communities in his district still waiting for high-speed Internet hookup, the MHA for Trinity North, Ross Wiseman, says nationwide regulations could be the way to ensure even the most remote towns get broadband connection.

Wiseman said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) could help the provinces get 100 per cent broadband coverage by requiring Internet providers to service the less lucrative rural markets if they want access to urban markets.

Right now the province provides money to Internet providers that want to hook up remote communities to broadband, reimbursing them for some of what it costs to put up poles and wire homes.

The Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development (IBRD) says it’s invested $29 million in rural broadband since 2003, but many communities, including Robinson’s Bight on Random Island and Princeton on the Bonavista Peninsula, still have no access to broadband Internet, relying on slower and less reliable dial-up or satellite connections.

Wiseman said the broadband initiative is seeing results, and is on track to achieve its goal of getting 95 per cent of the province by next year. Those results could be sped up, however, by a federal regulation on geographic coverage as part of the providers’ contracts with the CRTC.

“The federal government has a role here,” he said. “It’s not something one particular province can’t tackle in itself. But if the federal government had, as part of its agenda, 100 per cent penetration for broadband and Internet services across this country, then if that became the objective, through their regulatory body, they have the ability to put that as a condition of licences to all the providers in the country.”

Federal regulations, combined with the financial incentive the province is providing, would get more people in remote towns with access to high-speed Internet.

Wiseman said Internet access is important for his constituents.

“There’s an economic piece, but a social side of it as well,” he said. “The Internet has become an important tool for education, business, connectivity with their neighbours, friends and society in general, access to news and a range of public services are available by Internet.”

In April Nancy Wiseman of Robinson Bight on Random Island told The Packet she bought a turbo stick — a modem that plugs into a USB connection — giving people an Internet connection anywhere there is cellphone coverage. She’s waited years for broadband connection.

Robinson said she pays a rate based on the amount of data she consumes, and with a teenager at the home, that can be a lot.

“It’s limited what you can do, and we pay per usage,” she said. “If we had the broadband, we could do what we want and it would cost less. We set a limit of $100 per month, and we often reach that before the end of the month and have to go without.”

Many fishermen live in rural communities, and since April, fishermen have had to buy their licences online, after counter service closed in Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) offices across the country. Fishermen now have to print their licences at the start of the season and then print updates as they’re released, which can be difficult on a slow Internet connection.

The federal government has said it’s planning to open up the wireless market to new companies such as U.S.-based Verizon to encourage more competition. Wiseman said that should come with a stipulation these companies must provide a wide geographic coverage for broadband.

“If those big players want to do business in this country, hand-in-hand with that needs to be their obligation to provide a broader range of coverage in this country which would then benefit all of here as well. It would be a huge benefit to us, and we’d still be prepared to provide the financial incentives to get them to get into those markets.”

A spokesperson from the IBRD said the province hasn’t approached the federal government about CRTC regulations, and wouldn’t comment on whether this is something it would pursue in the future.

The Packet

Organizations: Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Department of Innovation, Rural Development Department of Fisheries and Oceans Verizon

Geographic location: Random Island, U.S.

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