By Drake Lowthers Contributed photo Pictured at last week’s announcement were (from the left): Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Councillor Kaytland Smith; District of St. Mary’s Warden Michael Mosher; Central Nova MP Sean Fraser; Blue Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gregg MacDonald; County of Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron; and John Beaton, Chief Executive Officer of the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network.

BLUE MOUNTAIN: Gone are the days of dial-up Internet with its high-pitched squeaks and squawks, those annoying repetitive beeps and that piercingly awful dial-tone, but many rural communities across Nova Scotia still struggle with connectivity issues.

Sean Fraser, Central Nova MP, announced a federal investment of $413,000 that will put an end to those connectivity issues by bringing new or improved high-speed Internet services to the Goshen, West Lochaber, and North Lochaber areas, and additionally to the MacPhersons Mills, Blue Mountain, and the Garden of Eden areas.

Fraser made the announcement July 26 at the Blue Mountain Fire Hall on behalf of Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

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“Access to high-speed Internet is not a luxury; it’s essential,” Bains said in a press release. “High-speed Internet service is a basic tool that all Canadians should have access to, regardless of where they live.”

This announcement is a major development and is something Fraser couldn’t be happier about.

“Growing up in a rural community, I was able to see the impact the lack of connectivity has had,” he said. “It leads to several important safety outcomes, it helps grow local businesses, and it provides rural communities with access to on-line media that so many other people in the province enjoy.”

This investment is much more than just convenience, it’s also about sustaining life in rural communities.

“I’ve personally spoken with business owners who’ve closed their storefronts because of a lack of connectivity has prevented them from processing debit and credit transactions,” he said. “On a more somber note, I’ve spoken to people who’ve lost family members in accidents and found them with a cell phone near their hands after they passed away trying to contact emergency numbers.”

The project will expand DSL broadband, up to 7Mbps download, to 225 new homes through the communities of Goshen, West Lochaber and North Lochaber.

“We know we’re going to continue to see young people leaving if we don’t make investments like this to make rural communities every bit as livable as urban communities,” Fraser said.

“I grew up in a rural community where there is not as many young people living there today as for when I was a kid,” he said. “To know we’re creating an environment to allow more young people to stay in rural communities, if that’s what they choose to do, then I know we’ve done something meaningful.”

The difference that connecting people to the Internet makes, is not just the opportunity to watch Netflix in the evening, this has very serious safety and economic considerations, Fraser said.

Communities, businesses and institutions need this Internet access to find information, offer services, and create opportunities, Bains said.

“Our communities need this service to do business, upgrade their education and build stronger communities.”

Fraser admitted accessing the Internet is taken for granted on a daily basis and as an example, he recalled, to his knowledge; no major party was campaigning in 2015 on the promise of connecting rural communities to the Internet.

“This really developed through advocacy of rural Members of Parliament, including myself,” he said. “We formed a rural caucus with about 50 MPs from rural areas in the Liberal party and brought the message we were hearing on the doorstep, to our colleagues in Ottawa.”

Through no fault of their own, when you talk with urban colleagues, it’s clear they don’t have an appreciation for what it’s like to be disconnected in a rural community, Fraser said.

“They don’t necessarily appreciate what it was like for that storefront in Sherbrooke that can’t process credit card transactions, in a tourist community, that has to close their storefront,” he said. “But when we brought it to their attention, they were completely supportive and this new project was created.”

The total project cost for the Goshen Fibre Backbone is $152,800, with $113,850 through the federal government’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, $28,000 through the Province of Nova Scotia, and $10,950 through Bell.

The project should be completed by 2021, but Fraser said he’s confident it will be completed quicker.

“I anticipate these people will be with high-speed Internet by 2020,” he said. “To know this is going to be in the short term, connecting a large number of people in rural communities is something I’m excited about.”

It’s important to note there are still a large number of rural communities that are not well served with high-speed Internet throughout Nova Scotia, Fraser said.

“This is the first sort of down-payment on what I hope will become a larger trend of seeing rural communities connected over the next number of years across the province.”

On May 4, the Government of Canada announced Connect to Innovate funding for Nova Scotia that will bring fibre optic networks to 64 communities and upgrade connectivity for 80 institutions.

The Government of Canada’s $500 million Connect to Innovate program is investing in building the digital backbone of high-speed Internet networks. Backbone networks are the digital highways that move data in and out of communities. These highways carry large amounts of data that are essential for schools, hospitals, libraries and businesses to function in a digital world.