Time for CRTC to support Inverness County’s needs

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of opinion pieces from the group Better Internet for Inverness County.

In October 2019, our Judique committee began the work of researching internet and cell needs here in Inverness County.

Over the past year, members from the Cregnish, Margaree, Marble Mountain, Pleasant Bay, and Glendale areas have joined the work of the committee. There has definitely been much progress made throughout the county in securing high speed intent through the installation of fibre optic cable to the home for area residents over the past two years.

Develop Nova Scotia has awarded millions to Bell Aliant for these services with the expectation that 99 per cent of homes in our county will have fibre installed by 2023.

However, we still have many concerns and we identify the two key ones in this article. We are concerned that in awarding all of the contracts to Bell Aliant, the province has created a monopoly that may not best serve the customer, based on past experiences with Bell Aliant. At the moment, Bell Aliant is not consistent in their pricing throughout the county, often offering temporary discounts to those who contact them to voice concerns about pricing or service. As well, we pay higher fees for our internet than Halifax does. We are very concerned that without CRTC’s monitoring, it will result in Bell discounting these services more deeply where it feels competitive pressure than in areas such as Inverness County where it does not.

As well, we are concerned that Bell Aliant does not ensure that all communities have a generator to maintain landline service throughout storms, etc. We have contacted the Bell Aliant person responsible for Inverness County at their Sydney office and have been assured that the batteries are meant to last from eight to 10 hours in an emergency. However, our experience here in Judique, twice in the past two years, has been that we have had neither landline nor cell service for a period of time. Judique is an area that experiences poor cell reception in many spots.

Therefore, our community, and others in the county, have been without the ability to contact emergency services for a time in the midst of storms etc. This is a critical situation that we find unacceptable. We have been frustrated in trying to contact Bell Aliant to receive answers and support. Our committee members believe landline phones should always have power. CRTC needs to regulate home battery backup, so that the telecommunication/service providers provide free, or at cost, battery backup in homes for all. The millions spent on the federal Universal Broadband Fund to bring essential services to all are useless if a homeowner’s phone has no power in an emergency.

Therefore, we have turned to trying to solicit CRTC for support. According to information found online “CRTC’s mandate is to ensure that broadcasting and telecommunications systems serve the Canadian public. The Broadcasting Act of 1967-68, established the Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) to regulate and supervise all aspects of the Canadian broadcasting system. We believe that CRTC must take the lead in protecting the rights of rural Canadians. Our efforts to secure the answers we want to hear from CRTC have been less that satisfactory. We need your help in contacting CRTC and lobbying for consistent, working backup systems at all times!

We have actively worked with our MP Mike Kelloway, MLA Allan MacMaster and municipal council to express our concerns to those decision makers in Ottawa/Halifax who can improve our situation. We feel the current responses from CRTC do not go far enough to support us here in Inverness County. We need you to write/contact your MP/MLA to let them know you have concerns about the two issues expressed in this article. We need you to contact CRTC to say that we are not second class citizens here in rural Nova Scotia and we need CRTC to do their job as stated in their mandate “to serve the Canadian public,” that’s us!

Please email Claude Doucet, CRTC Secretary General at: sec-gen@crtc.gc.ca.

Florence Campbell

Better Internet for Inverness County