That is the situation in some rural communities along the Parrsboro shore, and those lucky enough to have the service say the quality is sketchy at best. Fed up, a local group has been formed to tackle the problem and has already held several meetings.
“From our first meeting it was made clear that the issues were with availability or the lack thereof,” said Paul Hill of Port Greville. “Anyone moving to the area cannot get the service. Apparently there are only so many ports available, and they are all used up here, with Bell.”
That issue was laid bare in Advocate recently when the community welcomed a refugee family from Syria. Catherine Maclean is a member of the sponsoring committee, and had trouble getting the service for the family due to the lack of available ports.
Prior to making this call, she said no one in the community was even aware of the shortage in availability.
“Unless someone dies or moves, no one gets the internet anymore in Advocate,” she said. “They told us the only other way was if someone gave up their internet.”
Maclean and her husband did just that, disconnecting their service so the new family could have it. She chalked up the whole situation to “corporate greed,” and they have since lodged a complaint with the CRTC.
“We were outraged,” said Maclean. “To think this service is being denied to any area of Canada, let alone a rural area… we’re made up of rural areas in Canada.”
The internet provides essential services to people today, according to Hill, who said children use it for their schoolwork, others acquire health services online, and for many it is a decision-maker on whether they consider moving here or not.
Meanwhile, describing the service that is being provided to homes along the shore now as “high speed” might be considered a stretch. In Virginia, the minimum standard is 65 mbps. In England, an area receiving 25 mbps is unsatisfied and demanding 50 mbps. On the Parrsboro shore, Bell customers are receiving “up to 1.5 mbps” and are paying as much as $100 per month for “ultra high speed”.
Attempts to take these matters up with the company usually lead to conversations with customer service representatives peddling unwanted service bundles or offering “gobbledygook” explanations, according to Fox River resident Lida Currie.
“We lived in Thailand 15 years ago, an island in the middle of the South China Sea, and we had better internet for less than what Bell is providing,” she said. “And this is happening right across this country, not just here.”
While Bell is the main provider of internet services in the area, it is the only company that has not responded to all of the emails and meeting invitations from the group, according to Currie. Seaside Wireless, which serves some communities in the area, has agreed to have a representative attend the group’s next meeting.
The current level of service in the area is unacceptable to Cumberland South MLA and Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie.
“High-speed internet today is a necessity just like water or electricity,” he said. “In order for people to live and work in rural areas, they need high-speed internet. It was a promise made almost 10 years ago to all Nova Scotians, and I intend to enforce it for Cumberland South.”
Baillie said he has spoken to company officials from all of the service providers, including Bell Aliant, which he said is looking at its business case for the area and is applying for federal funding to improve its service. He said he also gained a commitment from them to offer a credit to its customers that are not receiving true high-speed service.
“It’s not fair to the residents of the shore area to have this problem,” he said. “It attacks their ability to take part in modern life, to work in a rural setting, and to attract new families to the area or even maintain the value of their homes.”
The citizens’ group has so far attracted almost 400 signatures to a petition demanding better service, and has no plans to let up on its efforts.
“It appears Bell and other providers have had upstart groups before, and if they ignore them long enough they go away,” said Port Greville resident Bob Brown. “We’re not one of those. We’re not going away.”