BROOKSIDE, NL – Residents of Brookside, a small community located on the Burin Peninsula approximately 45 kilometres northeast of Marystown, are feeling disconnected.
Felicia Gaulton of Brookside said residents were frustrated after learning they were not included in the list of communities receiving broadband service under the federal Connect to Innovate program.
“There’s been community members going back and forth with (MHA)Mark (Browne) trying to (find out) why aren’t we included, and there’s no answer as to why.”
Last month the federal and provincial governments – along with private partners in industry, community and indigenous groups – announced just shy of $40 million in funding for 31 projects to improve high-speed internet access to more than 1,500 households in 70 communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
Gaulton added residents were informed by Browne that Bell Canada, one of the services providers with a contract to provide broadband services, was responsible for deciding which communities were included under the available funding.
Of the $39.97 million announced for Newfoundland and Labrador, Bell Canada will receive approximately $1,101,380 to provide high-speed internet to three communities on the Burin Peninsula: Petite Forte, Southeast Bight and Rencontre East.
“It doesn’t seem like the government even (oversaw) anything,” said Gaulton. “They just came with a budget and said ‘here, use it as you see (fit)’ and Bell is the one making the plans.”
She added other residents have also contacted Bell Canada but have been unable to get any answers.
“They keep pushing us off, saying (they) don’t know who (represents) that area, we’ll have to get back in contact with you.”
In an article in the Southern Gazette last month announcing the investment into the project, Premier Dwight Ball explained once the work was completed, 99 per cent of the province’s population would be covered by broadband service, with the remaining one per cent living in areas where it’s most expensive to provide service.
Gaulton, however, says she doesn’t see how her community would fall into that one per cent, “but they can go to Petite Forte and Southeast Bight – they’re going to isolated communities that are reachable by boat and four-wheeler.”
Southeast Bight is an island community located approximately 11.3kilometres off the shores of Petite Forte.
“We’re just a community located off the side of the road before you go to Petite Forte.”
Mark Browne, MHA for Placentia West- Bellevue, explained service providers submitted proposals to be evaluated by the federal government for areas they felt they could cover.
“The federal government provides up to 75 per cent of the funding, and then the service providers determined what was commercially viable for them to contribute to the project,” Browne told the Southern Gazette.
He also said the MP for the province had input on what federal priorities were, and the province was asked to make up the difference in funding cost.
“Since the announcement was made of the communities involved, I have gone to Bell and I’ve asked them why Brookside wasn’t included and if there’s (the) ability for us to work with Bell to include them in the Petite Forte and Southeast Bight project.”
Browne said the province would be willing to work with the federal government if there is a way to do so.
Advocating for service
Browne said most of communities selected for funding were areas where residents brought their concerns about coverage to him – something Gaulton said Brookside residents tried to do, but to no avail.
“Last year in March there was a community member who contacted Mark about internet services for our community, (but) he was in a meeting and (they) said that he would call back – he never did.”
She added the same community member tried on other occasions to reach Browne but was unsuccessful.
“So before anything was even said about high-speed internet, we had community members who were interested in high-speed internet and (Browne) is saying that we didn’t lobby,” she said. “But we’re 12 homes –how much lobbing does he think we can do?”
Internet no longer a luxury
Cindy King’s home, along with a few others, is located between the communities of Boat Harbour and Brookside, and she is currently a Bell customer.
“My satellite dish for my TV is (through) Bell, my landline is Bell…so all their cables run here,” she said. “I don’t see where there would be a problem to do the couple of houses here, and down in Brookside.”
King, who currently has internet service through a company called Xplornet, said internet is no longer just a luxury.
“You can’t get unlimited internet on (Xplornet), you’re running on data,” she said. “All the government (departments) want you to do everything on the internet. It don’t take long and you’ve got your data used up and your bill’s just going up, up and up every time you click on.”
According to Isabelle Boulet, media relations representative for Bell Alliant, government had reviewed the company’s plan for expanded services. “Applications for funding under the Government of Canada’s Connect to Innovate program were based on our unique network opportunities that also fit within the requirements of the program and available funding,” Boulet wrote in a statement to the Southern Gazette. “The government reviews all applications and only the successful applications are made public. Our approved project in Petit Forte will also allow us to provide enhanced services in South East Bight; however, some communities in the area are outside of the scope of this particular project.
“We don’t have any announcements about expanded service in Brookside at this time.”
*** Editorial note, this article has been edited to include a statement from Bell Alliant.