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MacLauchlan’s Rural Internet: Too Little, Too Late

Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s re-announcement of “High Speed” Internet in rural PEI is a service long overdue.  Rural residents and businesses have been left behind even years after the present government had paid Bell to have it delivered.  The latest pre-election promise to provide this vital service may for some be a ray of hope, but it is a gift horse many, now skeptical Islanders, may want to carefully review.

The latest news flash mirage of rural high speed internet is one of a long series of tantalizing promises since 2007. Islanders’ doubt is justified with this repetitive pledge as they continue to struggle and wait for this modern communication tool.

Last week’s communique named Bell Canada and Xplornet as the internet service providers while yet the “province is finalizing agreements”.  The much heralded release reveals a two-tier model of delivery with some Islanders receiving the more reliable fibre connection, and others having to settle for Xplornet’s wireless service, perhaps in 2021.

The province itself has rejected its own proposal for the same type of mixed service Sep 10, 2018 as being inadequate.  Now the MacLauchlan government is embracing the plan, albeit with mostly federal tax dollars.  In any case, it is a cash cow for Bell that will just keep giving through unregulated rate payer fees unhampered by competitive alternatives.

Although a fibre line has been in place for more than a decade from Tignish to points east of Souris, and government offices have enjoyed access to its associated high speed, the majority of rural Islanders have had to make do with unreliable internet service.

One would expect that with the significant public investment into this “government funded, privately owned” operation, that guarantees would be put in place to ensure that the monopoly providing this public utility would deliver quality service at a fixed, affordable cost to consumers.

MacLauchlan’s self-congratulatory announcement reveals no such measures.  Other privately owned public utilities, such as our electric power suppliers, must have price hikes reviewed by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC).  Internet costs are tethered in other provinces by fair competition, as in Alberta which has SuperNet, allowing internet service providers (either existing or new) access to the network at competitive prices.

Privacy of information is a concern with Bell Canada since the company’s recently expressed intent (The Canadian Press, January 7, 2019) to gather and track customer data which could be sold to advertisers.

The MacLauchlan government’s ongoing and close relationship with Bell Canada, despite the failure of previous commitments to deliver needed high speed internet at an affordable price to rural Islanders, and now back peddling on fibre internet to all parts of the province is disconcerting to say the least.

We must find a better way and provide fibre internet to all Islanders at a competitive and affordable cost as is available in other parts of Canada.