For years, Kevin Tory has dreamed of buying a property in a remote area of New Brunswick where he could spend weeks at a time away from his primary residence in Sackville.
What stopped him? Whether he would be able to get a fast and reliable internet that would allow him to continue conducting daily Zoom calls and product demonstrations as the owner of a 30-person software development company.
“I’ve looked at all of the available options that … I had in various parts of the province here when you’re outside of the reach of … a thread coming in to you, and really nothing would give me the full amount.” bandwidth and give me the ping rate I needed. “
Everything changed in March. Tory applied for and was offered a subscription to Starlink, the satellite Internet service offered by SpaceX, the company of American billionaire Elon Musk.
After trying it out at his Sackville home for a few months, Tory said the results made him feel comfortable buying a cabin in Canaan Forks, located midway between Moncton and Fredericton.
“Suddenly I’m… in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road… three miles from the nearest lamppost and I have the internet, which is good enough for everything I need to do and is indistinguishable.
“I did a demo to a client in Florida… and I’m sharing my screen and I can do it from a booth… on the Canaan River. It’s damn good that I can do it from there.”
Canada has a “major digital divide” in the quality of Internet access between urban and rural areas.
New Brunswick is no exception, said Josh Tabish, spokesperson for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which manages the “.ca” domain.
In urban areas of the province, the median download speed for Internet users is 74.2 megabits per second. Rural customers see around 13 megabits per second, he said.
High density vs low density
The main reason is that telecom companies generally choose not to invest in upgrading and building infrastructure in low-density rural areas, in favor of higher-density areas, Tabish said.
“So if you’re… you’re going to spend $ 100 million on broadband, you’re probably going to do it where you can capture the most customers,” he said.
For years, the Government of New Brunswick has made improving high-speed Internet access in rural communities a priority.
In 2018, the government of former Premier Brian Gallant spent $ 10 million to help New Brunswick ISP Xplornet with its $ 30 million plan to bring faster internet to rural customers.
The province says the plan has enabled 10,000 rural households and businesses to access the Internet which gives them access to speeds of at least 50 megabits and 10 megabits per second for downloads and downloads, respectively.
Last November, after Premier Blaine Higgs campaign on the promise to increase rural internet speeds, the province announced that Xplornet would spend an additional $ 91 million, along with another $ 40 million from a federal program, to provide 63,000 rural homes with up to 100 million internet service. megabits per second.
The province, however, will not say how far it is in achieving this goal.
“The government recognizes the importance of broadband to the province’s economy and rural broadband network upgrades are underway,” provincial spokesperson David Kelly said in an email.
Too slow to arrive
For Leonard Madsen, improvements planned to provide faster Internet speeds to people in rural New Brunswick did not come quickly enough.
After being an Internet customer of Xplornet for about seven years, the Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick resident said he abandoned the business this summer in favor of Starlink.
“Imagine your Internet never worked, and when it did it was very frustrating,” Madsen said of his experience with Xplornet.
“If it rained, it didn’t work anymore. If there was fog, it didn’t work.”
Since installing the new Starlink satellite dish in June, Madsen has said the internet has been working so well that he and his family “don’t even notice it anymore.”
“I have a family of five and we all use the internet. I am a publisher and use the internet pretty unconditionally. My kids are gamers. My wife loves the internet and we have no stress in this house.” , Madsen mentioned.
Johanne Senecal, spokesperson for Xplornet, said the company has spent money to improve the Internet infrastructure it provides to customers in rural New Brunswick.
On Wednesday, the company announced it was activating a 5G tower near Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, which it said would have the capacity to provide customers in the region with download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, with more laps to go. Canadian in the coming months.
However, Senecal said there are rural residents who live in very remote areas, where Xplornet has not had a chance to build an infrastructure that offers high-speed internet access.
This is, she said, that there is “a space for competition”, like that of Starlink.
“It’s a big country… It’s hard to cover the number of rural Canadians, so there is room for competition.
The service has costs
There are some drawbacks to Starlink, however.
On the one hand, the initial installation costs to acquire the necessary equipment can be prohibitive.
Tory said he spent nearly $ 700 to acquire the dish needed to pick up Starlink’s satellite signals.
However, the monthly cost of $ 129 before taxes is about the same as it would have paid for another rural ISP, he said.
Aside from the cost, Tabish said that Starlink’s internet service is also still in beta testing, questions remain as to whether the quality will drop once more people join us.
“And then I would also say … I think it’s really good that Starlink has entered the market, but I’m not sure Canadians are necessarily comfortable with a foreign company controlling our communications infrastructure,” he said. said Tabish.
“So I think in the long term we would like to see more competition in the satellite space to make sure that we are not… held hostage by a company.”