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Residents of rural Kings County lament limited internet options

Kevin Brown, in his home office on Canaan Mountain. Brown is one of many residents of rural Kings County frustrated with the quality and reliability of their internet connection.
Kevin Brown, in his home office on Canaan Mountain. Brown is one of many residents of rural Kings County frustrated with the quality and reliability of their internet connection. - Sam Macdonald

Kevin Brown runs an internet radio station from his home on Canaan Mountain Road, on a 1.5 megabits-per second connection. That is, to put it succinctly, an exceptional feat.

Naturally, this is far from ideal for Brown. He, in fact, expects much more for the $149.45 he pays for internet – a service that’s called ‘high- speed’ rural internet.

Running a business from home, a reliable internet connection is a must.
“The biggest challenge is the work we do. Everything takes about ten times longer to do,” Brown said.

On top of that, it doesn’t take much activity in his six-person household to throttle the flow of information to a meager trickle, with multiple family members using it simultaneously throughout the day.

“When there are five people taking up 1.5 megabits per second, sometimes I have to kick other people off the internet, or do most of my work in the evenings,” Brown said. “My wife and I can’t be on the internet at the same time and we can barely stream Netflix. We’re two minutes outside of New Minas.”

Brown has considered other services, but many he looked at aren’t available in his area, are impacted too heavily by the weather – or require the hassle of raising a tower in his backyard to pick up satellite signals.

“That’s out of the question,” he said.

Brown said things haven’t changed over the years, with no discernible improvement to their dismal connection.

“I’ve seen a couple of glimmers of hope; I know Kings County has been working to get faster internet to more rural areas, and I think some part of that plan has been initiated,” Brown said. “We don’t know if any change will be months or years off.”

Standing near a window that boasts a commanding view of the Minas Basin, Brown stressed that he and his wife, Kayla Mansfield-Brown, have no other issue with their home beyond the internet.

Michelle Pelton, a resident of Blue Mountain, said the internet service – or lack thereof – in her community is a problem for her whole family.

Whether it’s normal net browsing, Netflix or even using one of the household phones, Pelton said the internet at her house, provided by Bell, has been exceptionally slow.

“My son plays video games, and for one game you have to stream it online. The internet was so slow he said by the time he got to react it was always a delayed reaction,” Pelton said. “I don’t know much about that other than the fact that he wasn’t able to play it, so he had to take his Xbox One and bring it to his friend’s house when he wanted to play his game.”

Pelton noted the only support Bell has provided when given complaints about the quality of the internet at her residence was to send a new modem.

Calling again, Pelton said a spokesperson for Bell said the only way to help her was to run a speed test – something she couldn’t do without a computer, after her laptop was irreparably damaged in an accident.

“I called them, and they said they’d have to run a speed test,” Pelton said. “They said ‘you need a computer to run a speed test.’
“I said, ‘well, you sent me a modem last year and it didn’t solve any problems so clearly, something else is wrong.”
Further troubling for Pelton is the fact that after she suggested they send a technician, the representative said the company wouldn’t do that until she does a speed test.
“I pay $100 plus tax for my internet, and it seems like a lot of money for what I’m getting.”


CORPORATE COMMITMENT

In spring 2018, Bell Canada stated its intention to invest $1.2 million dollars in partnerships with municipal, provincial, and federal governments to bring fiber optic internet to rural communities.

The telecom company was also provided $388,331 for three projects providing five communities and four institutions with high-speed access.

In an email, Isabelle Boulet, a media advisor for Bell Aliant, stated the company was awarded two projects to expand broadband service in Kings County as part of the federal government’s Connect to Innovate program.

“We have completed the fibre to the home network build in Glooscap First Nation, and the fibre backbone project to Scot’s Bay to our broadband network is anticipated to be completed next year.”

When asked about the recurrent complaints with the speed of internet in the Kings County area, Boulet suggested customers with concerns contact 1-866-425-4268 for assistance.


MUNICIPAL PERSPECTIVE

Peter Muttart, mayor of the Municipality of the County of Kings, said changes are coming to the internet infrastructure of Kings County.

“Before the end of September, we expect to be stringing broadband wire to get internet to rural regions of the municipality that are badly served or not served at all,” he said.

Muttart explained the specific service being set up is FTTP (fibre to the premises), something that will hardwire high-speed internet to residences. It is being done with the help of federal funding the municipality received a year ago.
“This isn’t wireless or coming off a tower, this is actual fibre strands that will go right to your house,” Muttart said. “This total investment, for us, is going to be $4-5 million.”
The expectation, Muttart noted, is that the service will provide improved internet to 85 per cent of Kings County.

“That’s great for everyone but the 15 per cent. And as for that fifteen per cent, we hope to get them covered through another investment and another application for some assistance toward that investment in the next round,” said Muttart.

In addition to federal funding, the municipality is looking to tap into provincial money in the Develop Nova Scotia program.

The $193-million fund is set aside to bring internet to 95 per cent of Nova Scotians. Although Kings County wasn’t able to make a submission for funding in the first round, ten private companies across the province did – companies that could potentially end up working with the municipality.
According to Chad West, manager of IT for the Municipality of the County of Kings, the municipality will be applying for funding in the next round of submissions. The goal is to provide improved internet service to underserved areas, such as those south of Wolfville and north of Berwick.


THE TECHNICAL SIDE

The improved internet service coming to Kings County at the end of the summer will be administered from points of presence (POP) throughout the county.

From these POPs, the lines will be directly run to homes by internet service providers doing business using that infrastructure.
These POPs will be located in the communities of Canada Creek, Black Rock, Woodville, Baxter’s Harbour and North Grande Pré.

“Within each POP, the last-mile service can be provided up to 10 km from that location,” explained West.

The municipality issued a request for proposals for internet service providers to work on the new infrastructure to provide internet. The first company to sign on and provide service was Cross Country.
As far as speed is concerned, West said the areas connected to the POPs should see an increase in internet quality, but since speed and quality depends on what sort of plan each household or business uses, it can be difficult to talk in numbers.

He noted a standard speed – 1 to 1.5 megabits-per-second download speed – has been the general benchmark of where communities in Kings County should be.
“In reality, many are getting about half that.”

That is a far cry, he said, from the 100 megabits-per-second download speed and 30 megabits-per-second upload speed the municipality anticipates the new internet lines through Cross Country will provide.
 


See also:

$26.4 million for connecting rural, remote communities with high-speed Internet announced in Greenwich

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