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West Hants pushing to have 98 per cent of its rural residents connected to wired high speed internet

Martin Laycock, the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the District of West Hants, has been working to get reliable rural high speed internet throughout the county for the past number of years.
Martin Laycock, the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the District of West Hants, has been working to get reliable rural high speed internet throughout the county for the past number of years. - Carole Morris-Underhill

Sporadic internet connection a frustrating reality

WENTWORTH CREEK, N.S. —

The perks of living in the countryside are plenty. Spacious yards, quiet nights, star-filled skies.

But those positives come with a trade off — at least for the time being.

Internet access is slow, at best, and for some residents, it’s non-existent.

For Tracy Brown, when there’s inclement weather, the reality of trying to access the internet becomes an exercise in frustration.

Brown lives in Wile Settlement, near Lower Vaughan, in West Hants. She’s one of thousands of home-based professionals in the province who require reliable internet to do their jobs. But she’s a rural resident, meaning she faces far more challenges than someone trying to connect in town.

Brown likens the rural internet issue to working with her hands tied behind her back.

“If the weather's bad, we shouldn't have the sporadic internet connection we do. And it doesn't matter how much you call the company that supplies the product, it just doesn't seem to get fixed,” said Brown.

She said there’s times when she has to reset the phone box provided by the internet service provider multiple times in order to get connectivity.

“That can cause a big delay in communicating with my customers. I do a lot of email and then, of course, sourcing information online. And then my son is still in high school so he uses it for school,” said Brown, who provides clients with architectural designs.

The poor upload and download speed also means she can’t access some of the latest tools that would assist her.

“My... CAD program, I have an option where I can subscribe on a monthly basis to use basically, the latest and greatest version of (it). That's something that I can't tap into because I just don't have the internet to support that,” she said, noting the same applies for taking online training.

Wile Settlement is located about 25 kilometres outside the Town of Windsor, where connectivity issues are rare. Brown said she’s gotten used to the slow, intermittent internet service.

“To me, now, it's become my norm. But then you go somewhere (and) you have better service available, it's like, ‘wow, I'm really missing out,’” she said.

And missing out is something West Hants councillors don’t want residents to have to endure for much longer.

Martin Laycock, the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the District of West Hants, has been working hard on finding ways to improve rural internet. Earlier this year, he introduced a report to council outlining a way for the municipality to lead the charge.

“So we've been talking about rural high speed internet in West Hants for at least three or four years if not longer,” said Laycock.

“It was identified as an issue in the 2017 strategic plan; it's something I hear consistently from residents. I know councillors hear consistently from residents and it's something that we want to tackle.”

NEXT STEPS

Develop Nova Scotia is a Crown corporation in charge of implementing the province's plan to provide high-speed internet access to at least 95 per cent of Nova Scotians. The province sees improving rural internet service as a priority, and in 2018, placed $193 million into a trust that Develop Nova Scotia can access to help connect communities, homes and businesses throughout the province.

In December 2018, Develop Nova Scotia put a call out to organizations interested in providing internet services in the province to pre-qualify to bid on projects. Ten organizations pre-qualified in the spring. In May, a request for proposals for projects that would result in additional connections in the next six months to a year was issued. Develop Nova Scotia is currently evaluating the proposals and negotiating contracts.

Laycock said the short time frame wouldn’t work for West Hants, so he’s eyeing the second round of bids that will explore solutions for longer-term projects.

“Building out West Hants is not going to be done in six to 12 months. But I know they're doing another call, I think, in the fall for bigger term projects,” said Laycock.

According to Develop Nova Scotia, proposals must offer solutions that meet or exceed provincial speed targets of 50 megabits per second (mbps) for wired connections and 25 mbps for wireless and must be able to evolve with changing technology.

West Hants approved a motion June 11 that would see them contribute up to $3 million in gas tax funding to provide 98 per cent of residents and businesses in the region with fixed, wired high speed internet service. The motion is tied to the Develop Nova Scotia approved rural high speed internet projects.

“There are many economic and social benefits of being able to offer every corner of our region high speed internet service. It will allow growth of business, expanded work opportunities, increased education options and so much more,” said Warden Abraham Zebian in a press release announcing council’s decision.

Laycock has been authorized to reach out to the proponent selected by Develop Nova Scotia for West Hants and begin negotiations. It’s hoped West Hants’ additional investment will make expanding services in the county enticing.

“I think for West Hants, I would argue it's very important because if we're at the forefront of that, we've got a huge competitive advantage over people who are sort of not willing to put up money, who are not willing to put up $3 million. We can be that community of choice because we're lit,” said Laycock.

“You can (once the connectivity is there) move to any house anywhere and you can run your small business, work from home, your kids can do their homework and access Netflix and you can have that quality of life that people expect in the day and age we're in. And I think that's what I see is important moving forward.”

With the federal government also making rural high speed internet access a priority, setting aside in this budget to establish a Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to meet the connectivity needs of rural Canadians, secure Low Earth Orbit satellite capacity and to top up the Connect to Innovate program, Laycock said he’s optimistic West Hants will achieve its connectivity goals.

To test your internet connection and see how it compares elsewhere in the province, visit https://performance.cira.ca


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