Islanders deserve quality and affordable fibreoptic internet
The Guardian (Charlottetown)19 Jan 2019 BY HERB DICKIESON GUEST OPINION
Dr. Herb Dickieson is the Rural Affairs Critic for the Island New Democrats
Times have changed in Prince Edward Island.
At one time electricity and indoor plumbing were rare and unavailable throughout our province.
Former four-term premier Alex Campbell noted that when he took office in 1966, 85 per cent of homes had no indoor plumbing. That would be unthinkable today.
Fifty years ago, in 1969, Premier Campbell introduced the Comprehensive Development Plan to bring Prince Edward Island into the modern age: transformation for a generation. It included finer details, such as requiring school teachers to have university degrees before teaching students, something we take for granted today.
Today we have Premier Wade MacLauchlan, not Alex Campbell, with plans that seem to be narrow in scope and lopsided in terms of who benefits, lacking a vision for the betterment of the province. Our province has been at a standstill for four years, and before that, eight wasted years under Robert Ghiz.
The Ghiz government, without issuing a tender, made a dubious deal with Bell Aliant that has cost all of us in P.E.I. tens of millions of dollars. They promised reliable high-speed internet; instead we have no better than dial-up in some areas, and for more than double the price we were charged before.
Wade MacLauchlan’s government has been no better with more bad deals for the benefit of Bell Aliant, with yet another untendered deal, this time for the province’s radio system. It was in the newspaper this week that Charlottetown is going to have to pay $75,000 per year to use their radios after the province strongarmed them into a deal with Bell Aliant. To sweeten the deal, we the taxpayers must cover the $360,000 cost to purchase these new radios, which seem to only work with Bell Aliant.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the MacLauchlan and Ghiz governments have been salesmen for Bell Aliant with all the deals they gave them. As if we needed more proof, in 2016 Ghiz was appointed President of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which entails lobbying for companies like Eastlink and Bell Aliant.
We can and must do than this.
Fibreoptic lines exist all over P.E.I., so there is no reason why we cannot work right away to make connections for rural residents and stop convoluted arrangements with Bell Aliant.
Government has promised us for years that they will make things better, and more than once they announced big plans to fix the things they never built in the first place. You can count on them to announce another scheme just in time for the coming elections, but it will likely be another twisted deal with Eastlink or Bell Aliant that will hold Islanders hostage to high prices, just like Charlottetown that is going to have to pay more than twice as much to run their radios thanks to Wade MacLauchlan’s deals.
It’s way past time we get every single home in Prince Edward Island online with a fibreoptic connection to the internet. Back in the 1950s the Rural Electrification Program brought electricity to all parts of our province, and if we had the will to do that then, we should have the will to do this with the internet today.
Islanders should not be held better hostage to deals Liberal governments have cooked up with Bell Aliant, or any other company for that matter. Local Island companies have worked to provide service to Islanders for years but appear to be blocked by a provincial government that is in deep with Bell Aliant and Eastlink and thwarting local initiatives.
I use a local company, but I know people who do not, and their bills went up again to start the year. As long as we keep sending boatloads of money off the Island, we are never going to get good service for all Islanders because the Eastlinks and Bell Aliants keep taking more and more, and so it seems, does this government.
The Liberal government has delayed, denied, and disappointed Islanders for years. They may try to make a last-ditch deal before the provincial election, but they have already proven that they just cannot be trusted with this, or any other number of things. We need and we deserve quality and affordable fibreoptic internet in our homes and businesses throughout rural Prince Edward Island.