By Kirk Starratt
Frustration is growing over lack of high-speed Internet service in parts of Kings County. One Huntington Point man is so annoyed with the situation he called a public meeting last week.
Mike Innis said it is extremely difficult trying to do school work, pay bills or run a business without high-speed Internet. All local service providers, including Eastlink, Aliant and Cross Country, have told him the service is either not available in his area or their engineers are working on it.
“Here it is 2012 and we’re still hearing the same excuses,” Innis said. He has written a letter to Darrell Dexter challenging the premier to run his office for one day, on a low-speed dial-up connection as Innis has to run his.
Nearly three years after the Dec. 31, 2009 deadline the provincial government set to have service available to everyone in Nova Scotia who wants it, there are still rural pockets of Nova Scotia without high speed Internet service, including several in Kings County.
Kings West MLA Leo Glavine is irate about the low speed of the introduction of high-speed.
"We're less than a third world country in many ways here," Glavine said, in regard to Internet connectivity.
Glavine said he thinks government is oblivious to the need to get the service out to everyone who wants it.
With hundreds of Nova Scotians unable to connect to high-speed two years past the 2010 project extension, Glavine wonders if the commitment of former Premier Rodney MacDonald. Glavine said he would be embarrassed if he were the minister responsible.
“Rural Nova Scotia has been the recipient of poor service absolutely,” he added.
People from across the county attended the public meeting at the Hall’s Harbour fire hall Nov. 21, many expressing great frustration with a lack of service availability and poor customer service when they call to inquire.
People at the meeting shared stories of neighbours having hard-wire service while they couldn’t get it. Some complained they couldn’t access the fixed wireless systems put in place by Eastlink as part of the provincial government contract, even though they had a clear line of sight to a tower. One man said the Better Business Bureau suggested he pay $11,000 to have cable run to his home.
Many laughed out loud when Innis asked how fast their dial-up service is. Many in attendance signed a petition for Eastlink high-speed Internet service as they entered the hall.
The fixed wireless technology was supposed to make the Internet accessible to all in the province, but service providers soon realized the geographic challenges of the line-of-sight technology, as pointed out by David Craig, senior director of internet operations and engineering for Eastlink. Since that time, he said the company has been working with the Department of Economic and Rural Development to find a solution. He said the challenges are no different in other regions.
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“I completely understand the frustrations people have,” Craig said. “I’d love to be able to say this is what we’re going to do and when, but I can’t.”
He said the company has built approximately 107 towers in eight counties in the western end of the province, including 10 in Kings, connecting around 7,500. The province has contributed approximately $2.2 million to the initiative while Eastlink has invested around $30 million.
There is now satellite technology that could be used at a commercially available price point, Craig said. The price wouldn’t change from fixed wireless: a $100 installation fee and $46.95 per month. However, he said Eastlink has yet to get the provincial go-ahead as satellite technology wasn’t acceptable under the original provincial government contract.
Another possibility for the Hall’s Harbour area would be to build a tower on the other side of the bay to beam a signal to residents.
Although he couldn’t make an on-the-spot commitment Nov. 21, Craig said Eastlink needs to hold a trial for the satellite technology and the Hall’s Harbour area could be considered. One man said there were more than enough willing participants in the room for a trial run.
Push for action
Innis said pressure has to be put on the province. He asked for volunteers willing to serve on a committee to help address the lack of service and clear up misinformation.
Glavine, the only elected official in attendance, said he could contact Department of Economic and Rural Development the following day.
The MLA said he would like to see reps from the two service providers holding the provincial contracts, Eastlink and Seaside, serve on the committee with citizens. He said he would like to see the group sit down with the minister and deputy minister responsible to discuss the lack of service and see if it can be addressed over the next six months to a year.
Craig said Eastlink would be happy to participate in the committee and that the company hasn’t done a good job in regard to communicating with the public.