Internet woes continue in Inverness County

CREIGNISH: The lack of reliable internet service in Inverness County has a number of locals hot under the collar. 

“It’s hard to believe this is the case after all these years,” said John MacNeil, speaking on behalf of the community group Better Internet for Inverness County.

“I can’t understand how, after all these years, we’re not where we should be. It’s so frustrating. If you go to every rural community, it’s the same story.”

According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) webpage, the minimum range for “acceptable broadband Internet speeds” is 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

Last Friday afternoon, The Reporter tested the internet speed in Port Hood, and the result was a 2.0 Mbps for downloads and a .4 Mbps for uploads. Those results were with Bell Canada.

MacNeil said the lack of decent service is hampering the ability of residents to work from home and take advantage of the World Wide Web in the same way that urban residents do. Given that internet service is connected to cell service, the lack of connectivity can lead to safety issues: contacting emergency responders, for example, he noted.

MacNeil is not along in his concerns. A number of resident sent testimonials to The Reporter explaining their dissatisfaction with local internet.

Jack Johnson, a Marine Navigation Technology student at NSCC, said connectivity in the Troy/Creignish area was a major hurdle for him to overcome as a student.

“During my first year for the online learning portion of my course, it was common to not being able to learn that day’s lesson with the rest of my class due to a horrible internet connection,” he said. “There were days when the connection was decent enough to connect to the online classroom, but those days were few and far between, and I would mostly have to wait on e-mails from teachers or fellow students to try and educate myself rather than learn the same material that my classmates had been taught the day before.”

Mortgage broker Tyler MacNeil said his work allows him the freedom to work from wherever he pleases, however, Inverness County’s lack of high-speed internet keeps him from working here.

“This is a major issue for the area as we are seeing many people moving back to Nova Scotia with great jobs, many of those required to work from home,” he said. “This year to date my business has been involved in moving ten families to our province. What they all had in common was that employers required them to have access to the highest speed internet to do their jobs.”

Geraldine Lavallee, who recently moved back to Inverness County with her husband, said the two of them “are both astounded and frustrated at the lack of ability not only for him to be able to work from our home but to even download a movie.”

Garry Lavallee, a commercial helicopter operator, added that his business is done no favours by unreliable internet access.

“Due to the extremely poor internet service locally, I am unable to hold or attend video conference calls with my colleagues – a major requirement for our operations,” he said.  “I am also unable to download and definitely cannot upload any large files in a timely manner.”

Pharmacist Consultant Lillian Berry has been kept off internet meeting through apps like Zoom and Webex. With that, she said inconsistent internet speeds interferes with her ability to download or upload large documents.

Melinda MacDonald, owner and operator of Melinda by the Sea, said uploading her artistic creations with substandard internet service has been no picnic.

A possible light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of the Internet for Nova Scotia Initiative. The project sees Develop Nova Scotia partner with Bell Canada to connect more than 87,000 homes and businesses in rural Nova Scotia with decent internet service. The timeline of the project extends into 2023.

Should all go well, the initiative will provide 97 per cent of homes and business in the province high speed access. The funding for the initiative came from an investment of $193 million from the provincial government.

MacNeil said that timeline, to him, sounds like a best case scenario, as infrastructure project often suffer delays. With that, he maintains connecting with Bell Canada officials is very difficult.

“There’s no communication with Bell,” he said. “It’s hard to get anything out of them, and when they do come out with something, it’s a generic statement from a public relations person. 

“We want updates from Bell. It’s basically a lack of communication that’s happening here. They say they’re on schedule, and we want to make sure they aren’t lagging behind.

“If they are, that’s a delay on this end.”

After speaking with folks from Better Internet for Inverness County, The Reporter reached out to Bell Canada for comment. Katie Hatfield, Manager of Corporate Affairs, spoke on the company’s behalf.

Last spring, a couple of Bell’s managers met with Inverness County Warden Laurie Cranton, she said. The meeting regarded Wireless Home Internet availability, local fibre builds in partnership with Develop Nova Scotia, and the work Bell does to upgrade current sites. She said it was a very productive session.

“Our network relies on commercial power to operate, and we use batteries and generators to provide back-up power during extended outages,” she said. “We perform regular maintenance at all our locations and have completed work at our central office in the area.

“We are currently in the process of visiting each location as part of our maintenance schedule to check the health of our battery back-up systems, which can be significantly impacted over time by frequent or extended commercial power outages.”

She also mentioned that Bell’s Wireless Home Internet (WHI) service is available in the county.

“The WHI rural network rollout is fully funded by Bell and is specifically designed to bring broadband access to smaller towns and rural locations. Hundreds of households across Inverness County have access to the service right now.

“We continue to invest in Nova Scotia through our partnership with Develop Nova Scotia where Bell is expanding high-speed Internet to thousands of households throughout Inverness County.”