Business owner, MLA want better Internet service in Inverness County

    Sara Rankin is hoping lackluster internet service won’t result in her business having to relocate.

    MABOU: A whole lot still has to be worked out, but Sara Rankin is hopeful subpar Internet service won’t result in her needing to move Sara Rankin Creative, her graphic design and web design business, from its Mabou home.

    Two weeks ago, Rankin voiced her displeasure with Internet service on social media. Conducting business over the World Wide Web is extremely difficult, she said, when the Internet connections in rural Cape Breton are simply not as quick as the fiber-op connections in cities and towns.

    To keep her business open, Rankin said she might have to set up shop elsewhere – necessitating a move from her home town.

    However, with social media and the news media shining a light on her situation, things are starting to look more promising.

    “Since I talked to CBC, the municipality has stepped up,” she told The Reporter last week. “They’ve called a meeting with Bell [Rankin’s Internet Service Provider], and the Cape Breton Partnership is moving ahead with a project where they’ll set up a hub at the court house in Port Hood where people can go and work. They have fiber op there.”

    Along with that, Rankin said she’s been contacted by Internet Service Providers who all say they want to help. The specifics of how they plan to do so, she said, is something they aren’t prepared to be vocal about to the media, so Rankin said she’ll keep tight-lipped about the details for now.

    However, if higher speed Internet isn’t made possible soon, the graphic artist said she’ll have to consider moving.

    “A lot has happened in a week, though,” she said.

    Rankin said she knows fiber optic lines already run through the area, as fiber op service is available at the municipal building, in schools, and at the Cabot Golf facilities in Inverness. Having small businesses connect to those lines, she said, shouldn’t be terribly difficult.

    “I’ll gladly pay to get good Internet,” she said, explaining that to meet deadlines, she’s occasionally had to park at her old high school and use the WiFi there.

    Skype calls are virtually impossible in the current set-up, and explaining to clients in the city the limitations of rural Internet is a constant chore.

    “The answer shouldn’t be move,” she said. “The answer should be let’s get the lines connected. I’m just hoping it’s sooner than later.”

    The graphic designer said what’s especially infuriating about Bell’s service is its cost. She maintains that the rural rate is higher than what customers are shelling out for elsewhere.

    “Why are we paying double when we’re getting less than a quarter of the service?” she said. “It’s a little like we should be happy with what we get, and that’s not acceptable. Why are we paying more for a service that doesn’t work?

    “Bell’s response is that it’s far too expensive to set up the infrastructure, but the lines are already here. Don’t tell us that.”

    Expanding the existing service in rural Nova Scotia is a tall order, said Katie Hatfield, Bell Canada’s manager of corporate affairs.

    “Advanced broadband networks are quite costly to build and operate, and building a business case for sparsely populated locations and other hard-to-reach areas can be difficult,” said Hatfield. “We often partner with communities and other levels of government to bring network enhancements to rural and remote areas that can’t be supported through private investment alone. We’ll be following up with the municipality on this situation.”

    Hatfield acknowledged that pricing and availability can vary by region.

    “Customers can check what services and packages are available in their area by entering their address on our website,” she said.

    Inverness Municipal Council is planning to meet with Bell representatives in the near future.

    Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster said he feels very badly for Rankin.

    “The government put some money on the table, but that was over a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “One hundred and ninety three million dollars was announced [for rural internet improvements] in 2018 – a windfall of money from offshore oil payments from years past. The government decided to put the money into high speed Internet across the province. That was great but, to my knowledge, nothing has been done with that money yet.

    “I think that’s had the unfortunate impact of causing the Internet Service Providers to delay making any improvements to their systems,” he said. “I think they’re waiting for the government to fix the systems for them.”