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Seeking connection: Residents in rural P.E.I. want better internet

Students with poor internet access will work harder and longer to get the same amount of work completed, and may end up reducing the number of courses they do in a given semester to compensate for both the logistical and fiscal difficulties.
Breadalbane, P.E.I., residents on the Dixon Road are not slated for the same internet upgrades as the rest of their community. - RF Stock
BREADALBANE, P.E.I. —

Some Breadalbane residents are fed up with the slow internet speeds and limited options for service in their community. 

Residents have just two choices for internet — digital subscriber line (DSL) from Bell Canada DSL or satellite internet from Xplornet. 

Some of the community is slated for an upgrade to Bell Fibre-Op, but homes inside village limits, along three kilometres of the Dixon Road (Route 246), are not on the list for upgrades. 

Petra Ross, a Bell client living on the Dixon Road, says companies like Bell should do better for their rural customers.

“We’re not talking about a tiny company, we’re talking about a huge corporation that easily could extend fibre-optic to everywhere," she said.  "They’ve got millions of dollars from our tax money to ameliorate our services and (in the meantime) we’re told we’re getting high speed and we’re not.”

In 2010, the P.E.I. government promised high-speed internet service to every Island household and signed a deal with Bell (then called Aliant). The telecommunications company would spend $8.2 million to install the infrastructure. In return, the provincial government agreed to renew their contract for land-line service for five years, a $12 million value.

At the time, then premier Robert Ghiz called the deal, “too good to be true”, as Aliant further discounted the province’s land-line telephone service by $2.5 million.

But what seemed like good value for money in 2010 is not holding up for customers 10 years later.

For the last four years, Ross said her download speeds have hovered around 0.24 mbps, occasionally peaking at 1.2 mbps, yet she is billed for high-speed service.

“You can’t even send pictures,” she said. 

“The government offices are closed, and you need to use the internet to get your CERB, or whatever. Any information on anything through the government needs to be done over the internet. And here we are sitting in this (internet) hole and we can’t get that. So I think the government is responsible — like a big deal responsible — for not allowing these services to reach everywhere.”

An educational assistant, Ross says the poor service also has impacts for rural students.

“It’s not a matter of not having enough computers, because you cannot operate more computers than one, at best,” she said.

Petra Ross is fed up with paying for high speed internet and receiving download speeds of less than 1.5 mbps.
Petra Ross is fed up with paying for high speed internet and receiving download speeds of less than 1.5 mbps.

A spokesperson from Bell Aliant said their DSL lines are getting old and are not the latest technology. However, Bell said that the company continues to meet the conditions of the 2010 deal when high-speed internet meant speeds between 1.5 and 7 mbps. 

Jeff Rahn, who runs a licensed tourist accommodation on the Dixon Road opted for Xplornet satellite internet service for his business. His service doesn't seem to be any better.

“When people are here, we can have six or seven people on their devices, streaming,” he said. “(The connection) is 25 mbps, but we have a 100G data cap per month, so when that 100G runs out, we’ve got nothing, basically. You can chew through 100G in no time.” 

Rahn isn’t operating a B&B this summer, keeping on his two winter tenants instead. Still, halfway through the billing cycle, they’ve reached the 100G data cap and internet speeds drop to nearly nothing.

“There’s a business case to make for having high-speed internet to adequately operate. If the province wants to ensure the economy is operating as it should be — your tax dollars and whatnot — you’d think the priority would be to ensure that this section of the community is picked up.” 

In March 2019 the province announced $36 million of the P.E.I. Broadband fund would go to fibre-optic internet service for rural areas of the Island. 

In March of this year, the province signed federal-provincial agreements with Bell Canada, Xplornet and Air Communications Inc.

Rahn was at a public meeting in December where he heard MLA Brad Trivers and Joseph Rowledge, a senior policy adviser with the province, say Xplornet would be installing fibre-optic internet from the hall, down the Dixon Road to the community limits.

Rahn has since heard that is no longer the case, but he hasn’t been able to confirm what's planned instead.

Jeff Rahn owns a business on the Dixon Road in Breadalbane.
Jeff Rahn owns a business on the Dixon Road in Breadalbane.

The province wasn’t able to provide an update to The Guardian either. 

“Xplornet is currently in the design phase of the project, which includes determining the final locations and configuration of towers and fibre routing across the Island. Therefore, we cannot provide specific location details at this time,” said an email from the Tourism and Economic Growth Department.

Email inquiries to the Internet Plan (internetrfp@gov.pe.ca) were not returned.

Bell Canada confirmed that while fibre-optic network construction is ongoing in Breadalbane, Dixon Road is not part of the current plan.

“The scope of projects in all communities across the Island was developed in partnership with the government and based on an approved list of civic addresses in each community,” said the spokesperson.  

Meanwhile, Ross is considering joining a class-action suit against Bell. 

“They’re charging us for services we're essentially not getting,” she said.

The representative from Bell said the P.E.I. government is open to discussion about specific addresses not covered in the current plan and suggested residents contact internetplan@gov.pe.ca or reach out to Bell’s network team who can discuss it with the P.E.I. government. 

A public meeting is scheduled for Aug. 12 with MLA Brad Trivers to discuss the internet situation in Breadalbane. 

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