Good internet our basic right

Joe Mukherjee and his family live on Haliburton Lake, close to the Fort Irwin Marina. He works from home so internet connectivity is pretty important to him. Add COVID and the need to stay virtually connected with loved ones and the essentialness of good internet intensifies.

Joe’s with Bell and they have two DSL internet lines running to their house. That’s right. DSL … over the phone lines. He says the speeds are terrible, way less than the advertised 5MB/s, instead averaging about 400 KB/s.

After many calls to Bell, Joe said he went with a technician to the pedestal box behind the marina. Inside was a note dated 2018 saying the area is severely congested so not much can be done about customer complaints.

Sadly, there are a lot of Joes in Haliburton County.

Over the last couple of years, we have heard about service improvements coming to the region. Some believe NFTC has brought relief to people in the villages of Haliburton and Minden. The rest of the County is still waiting.

We are not unique. The Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) says only about 40 per cent of rural households in Canada have access to 50/10 Mbps, compared with 97 per cent of urban homes.

There are three projects on the books that we are keeping an eye on. On Aug. 18, The County of Haliburton supported two proposals that could provide thousands of people with better internet. Councillors directed staff to prepare letters of support for Bell and Xplornet for them to apply to the first intake of the provincial Improving Connectivity for Ontario program (ICON).

Both are proposing to build more fibre connectivity in the County with help from a $150 million grant funding pool. The Bell proposal would service approximately 4,000 homes in the County. The Xplornet project would assist 5,400 underserved premises.

The other projects include The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) proposing a new $1.6 billion project to deliver faster internet across eastern Ontario, including Haliburton County.

EORN is also working on a project to improve mobile broadband coverage in the region, a $213 million public-private partnership that is funded and has a request for proposals process underway.

With an estimated 18,000-20,000 households, many rural, we remain a little skeptical about how widespread these improvements will be.

Without federal, provincial or municipal money, the big internet players in Canada have not been all that interested in improving internet in rural and regional Canada. Many Highlander readers have shared stories of how a technician or someone at head office has told them, ‘sorry, it doesn’t make economic sense to run that fibre to your house.’ In other words, getting so-called last mile service down every gravel road is a major challenge.

With all three levels of government now prepared to pony up money, however, we can only hope that the promises actually come to fruition and that residents of Haliburton County can finally get the type of Internet that the CRTC says is our basic right.

If companies such as Bell and Xplornet, which have a very stable oligopoly in this County, cannot deliver the goods, the federal government has to lift restrictions on foreign ownership which prevents new companies from coming in and competing.

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