Recent funding decisions by the federal and provincial governments can help upgrade high speed Internet service throughout the Strait area.

On March 15, Premier Stephen McNeil announced the province was providing more than $120 million in one-time funding, generated from offshore revenues, to help expand and improve high-speed internet service to homes and businesses, and enhance service for under-served communities.

Part of the federal government’s budget released on February 27 called for an investment of $100 million over five years to support technological innovations such as low earth orbiting satellites, which have the potential to improve Internet access in rural communities.

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner noted that the launch site being developed near Canso by Maritime Launch Services will accommodate this type of satellite.

These funding announcements were welcome news in the Strait area where officials, residents and business owners have been complaining about the poor level of high speed Internet access and service for years.

Unfortunately, no announcements addressed unacceptable cell and landline phone service in many parts of the Strait area, which has also been a hot button issue recently.

After issues with cell and Internet services were raised at council tables in Inverness County, Richmond County and Guysborough, Antigonish Municipal Council recently discussed the issue.

Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron took issue with the “huge gaps in our county,” noting they raised the need for stronger services with local MLAs and MPs. McCarron said a lot of rural businesses in the county require reliable cell coverage, as well as high speed Internet service.

On February 13, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon hosted a community meeting for the residents of Framboise, Fourchu and Grand River who expressed frustration over unreliable landline telephone service and the lack of cell phone coverage in their communities. The meeting was attended by approximately 50 people, including municipal officials, as well as representatives from Richmond County’s Emergency Management Office and the Cape Breton Partnership.

Between 120 and 125 Richmond County residents came forward at a community meeting last August to express concern with the quality of landline service. Paon says the issue is compounded by the lack of cell phone coverage in many areas, which she described as “an emergency management issue.”

Paon says that although Bell Aliant has been working to repair the equipment, residents are still having problems.

The PC MLA wants the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to review Bell Aliant’s infrastructure and ensure there is a secondary source of communication in the area, like cell service.

On March 7, Paon brought up the topic of cell coverage, also including the Dundee area, during Question Period in the Nova Scotia Legislature. Paon said she’s received letters from business owners about the issue and asked Minister of Business Geoff MacLellan if he believes reliable cell coverage is critical to operating a modern business.

MacLellan acknowledged that the province has “to do better” for rural areas from both business and safety perspectives.

While urban centres may be covered, Paon said people can’t be sure they will have cell coverage from one moment to the next in some rural areas.

Phone and Internet services are vital. The fact that some Strait area residents do not have even reliable landline phone connections, is simply disturbing, and the fact that people have to lobby and complain to have basic communication infrastructure, is completely unnecessary.

It’s clear that providers are not maintaining their infrastructure to even acceptable levels, especially in sparsely populated areas where they claim the business case does not support such investments.

That goes beyond private sector interests. If these companies cannot provide essential services, then it’s time for the public sector, using entities like the CRTC, to force providers to bring service up to acceptable standards.

While such bold actions would at least ensure landline phone service, that does not guarantee reliable cell phone service to parts of the Strait area that are essentially dead zones.

Not just deterring businesses and employers from setting up shop in under-serviced areas, prospective homeowners, young families and others have been discouraged from moving to certain areas because of the lack of services, and that negatively affects the economy.

These residents have rights to basic communication, and that is not a privilege.

Although government has stepped up to address Internet issues, cell and landline phone services are still lacking, and without any investments, government will have to either work with the private sector, or force providers to do what they should have years ago.