Dissatisfied with local internet options, rural NB residents turn to satellite services

For years, Kevin Tory longed to buy a property in a remote part of New Brunswick, where he could spend weeks at a time living away from his primary residence in Sackville.

What stopped him? The question of whether he would be able to get fast, reliable internet that would allow him to continue conducting daily Zoom calls and product demos as the owner of a 30-person software development company.

“I was looking at all the available options that … I had in different parts of the province here when you are outside the area … a cord coming to your house and really nothing would give me the total amount of bandwidth and give me the ping rate I needed. “

That all changed in March. Tory applied for and was offered a subscription to Starlink, the satellite Internet service offered by US billionaire Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX.

After trying it out at his home in Sackville for a few months, Tory said the results allowed him to feel comfortable buying a cabin in Canaan Forks, located halfway between Moncton and Fredericton.

Kevin Tory said his Starlink Internet is fast enough to let him conduct Zoom meetings and host virtual product demonstrations for the clients he serves through his software company. (Submitted by Kevin Tory)

“Suddenly I’m … in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road … five kilometers from the nearest street light and I have internet, which is good enough for everything I have to do and which is indistinguishable.

“I gave a demo to a customer in Florida … and I share my screen and I can do it from a cabin … on the Canaan River. It’s pretty good that I can do it from there.”

Canada has a “big digital divide” when it comes to the quality of Internet access between cities and rural areas.

New Brunswick is no exception, said Josh Tabish, spokesman for the Canadian Internet Registry, which administers the “.ca” domain.

In urban areas of the province, the median download speed for Internet users is 74.2 megabits per second. Second. Rural customers see about 13 megabits per second, he said.

High density versus low density

The main reason is that telecommunications companies typically 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 … want to spend $ 100 million on broadband, you’ll probably do it where you can capture the most customers,” he said.

Josh Tabish, spokesman for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, said there is a “digital divide” in Canada between urban and rural Internet users. (Submitted by Josh Tabish)

For years, the New Brunswick government has said improving access to high-speed internet in rural areas was a priority.

In 2018, under former Prime Minister Brian Gallant, the government spent $ 10 million on helping New Brunswick-based ISP Xplornet with its $ 30 million plan to deliver faster Internet to rural customers.

The province says the plan has led to 10,000 households and businesses in rural areas having Internet access that gives them access to speeds of at least 50 megabits and 10 megabits per second for download and upload, respectively.

In November last year after Prime Minister Blaine Higgs campaign on the promise of rising rural Internet speeds, the province announced that Xplornet would spend an additional $ 91 million dollars along with an additional $ 40 million from a federal program to provide 63,000 rural households with Internet speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.

However, the province will not say how far it is to reach this goal.

“The government recognizes the importance of broadband for the province’s economy, and upgrades to the rural broadband network are an ongoing work,” said provincial spokesman David Kelly in an email.

Too slow to arrive

For Leonard Madsen, the planned improvements to deliver faster Internet speeds to rural areas in New Brunswickers did not come fast enough.

After being an Xplornet Internet customer for about seven years, Keswick Ridge, NB, resident, said he dropped the company this summer in favor of Starlink.

“Imagine your internet never working, and when it did, it was frustrating as hell,” Madsen said of his experience with Xplornet.

“If it rained, it stopped working. If it was foggy, it didn’t work.”

Since the installation of the new Starlink dish in June, Madsen said the Internet has worked so well that he and his family “do not even notice it anymore.”

“I have a family of five and we all use the internet. I’m a publisher and I use the internet pretty hardcore. My kids are gamers. My wife loves the internet and we have no stress in this house,” Madsen said.

Johanne Senecal, spokeswoman for Xplornet, said the company has spent money on improving the internet infrastructure it offers customers in rural New Brunswick.

On Wednesday, the company announced that it was activating a 5G tower near Florenceville-Bristol, NB, which it said would have the ability to provide customers in the area with download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. Second, with more towers going up over Canada in the coming months.

Xplornet’s tower near Florenceville-Bristol will use 5G equipment manufactured by Ericsson Radio System. (Submitted by Xplornet)

However, Senecal said there are some rural residents living in very remote areas where Xplornet has not had the chance to set up infrastructure that offers high-speed internet.

This is where she said there is “room for competition”, like the one from Starlink.

“It’s a big country.… It’s challenging to cover the number of Canadians in rural areas so there’s room for competition.”

Service comes with some cost

However, there are some drawbacks to Starlink.

First, the initial installation fee for acquiring the necessary equipment can be prohibitively expensive.

Tory said he spent close to $ 700 to acquire the plate needed to pick up Starlink’s satellite signals.

However, the monthly cost of $ 129 before tax is about the same as he would have paid for another rural ISP, he said.

Aside from the cost, Tabish said Starlink’s internet service is also still in beta testing, where there are still questions about whether quality will decline when more people get on board.

“And then I also want to say … I think it’s really nice that Starlink has entered the market, but I’m not sure Canadians are necessarily confident that a foreign company is controlling our communications infrastructure,” he said. Tabish.

“So I think in the long run we would like to see more competition in the satellite space to help ensure that we are not … held hostage by a company.”

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