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Most rural P.E.I. homes could wait 3 more years for faster internet

The P.E.I. government’s agreements with Bell were originally slated to improve 9,422 households by the end of March 2021. The province’s agreement with Xplornet did not have a specific timeline, but the province has said the expected completion date is Aug. 31, 2023.
The P.E.I. government’s agreements with Bell were originally slated to improve 9,422 households by the end of March 2021. The province’s agreement with Xplornet did not have a specific timeline, but the province has said the expected completion date is Aug. 31, 2023. - Stu Neatby

A total of 7,500 homes in P.E.I. saw their internet improve to broadband speeds in 2020, following an agreement signed between the province, the federal government and Bell Canada.

But it could take almost three years for most rural households in P.E.I. to reach broadband internet speeds, defined as 50 megabits per second download and 10 megabits per second upload. 

Timelines for when customers of Xplornet can see upgrades remain unclear. 

Bell’s upgrades have been concentrated in the Souris and Tignish areas, according to maps posted on the provincial government’s website. Bell has also said the number of households that will see upgrades to high-speed internet access has grown from 9,422 to 13,000. Remaining households within the regions of the Bell agreement are slated to be brought up to broadband speeds by the end of March, with most improvements expected by the end of February. These regions include Hunter River, New Haven, Crapaud, Tyne Valley and areas surrounding Charlottetown. 

Tracey Gairns Brioux is the founder of Reset:Breathe, an online business that offers an on-demand fitness community. Her business relies upon regular uploads of video content shot in her Emyvale home. But the slow speed of her home internet has forced Brioux to travel to coffee shops in Cornwall or Charlottetown or to a local community centre to upload content.

Brioux’s home is scheduled to see broadband upgrades as of Feb. 28, 2021. It can’t come fast enough.

"We always go through periods around this time of year where it really doesn't work well. So, I've been having to leave the house again (and) go to the rec centre," Brioux told The Guardian on Monday. 

Tracey Gairns Brioux runs an internet-based home exercise business. Work to upgrade her home to broadband speed is expected to be completed by Feb. 28. - Contributed
Tracey Gairns Brioux runs an internet-based home exercise business. Work to upgrade her home to broadband speed is expected to be completed by Feb. 28. - Contributed

Brioux said she is cautiously optimistic. But she knows many of her neighbours, including some 300 metres from her door, may not see improvements to their internet anytime soon.

Xplornet, which signed a multi-million-dollar agreement with the province last March committing to bring 20,000 households up to broadband speeds, has not set out firm timelines for the improvements. Many of Brioux’s neighbours may be in areas covered by Xplornet.

It remains unclear when the 20,000 homes covered under the Xplornet agreement, representing the majority of households promised broadband-speed internet, will see improvements.  

In an email, a representative from the Department of Economic Growth, Tourism and Culture said Xplornet is planning two phases of its project to improve the quality of rural internet. The first phase will see the construction of 8 new wireless towers across P.E.I. These towers will expand the coverage area of Xplornet customers on P.E.I. to 17,000 households.

“The tentative completion for these towers is spring 2021,” the province said in an email.

Last March, Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay said the expected completion date for Xplornet’s work was Aug. 31, 2023. By November, an employee of MacKay’s department told a standing committee this work was not expected to be completed before November of 2023. - SaltWire file
Last March, Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay said the expected completion date for Xplornet’s work was Aug. 31, 2023. By November, an employee of MacKay’s department told a standing committee this work was not expected to be completed before November of 2023. - SaltWire file

A second phase of construction will involve the construction of fibre-to-home connections, expected to reach 3,000 homes. No date for completion of this phase has been identified.

Xplornet had initially planned to offer fibre-to-home connections to 17,000 customers and wireless expansion to 3,000 homes.

It is unclear how many households – if any - will be brought up to broadband speed internet by spring. It is also unclear how long it will take for all 20,000 households to reach broadband speed.


At a glance

Total households covered under initial March 2020 Bell, Xplornet agreements:

  • Bell: 9,422
  • Xplornet: 20,000

Last March, Economic Growth Minister Matthew MacKay said the expected completion date for Xplornet’s work was Aug. 31, 2023. By November, an employee of MacKay’s department told a standing committee this work was not expected to be completed before November of 2023. 

The agreements signed between the province and Xplornet last March did not commit the company to complete its work along specific timelines. Disbursement of funding from the province was based around completion of work.

Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said this amounted to an Achilles heel of the agreement.

Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is concerned at the lack of timelines for upgrades to households covered under the agreement between the province and Xplornet. - SaltWire file
Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is concerned at the lack of timelines for upgrades to households covered under the agreement between the province and Xplornet. - SaltWire file

"It seems that Bell is living up to the agreement that they had. In fact, it seems that they may even go beyond that," Bevan-Baker said. "My main concerns lie with Xplornet fulfilling the obligations of their part of the contract."

Bevan-Baker said many of his constituents have complained of their internet speeds being “throttled down” by Xplornet. 

The Guardian reached out to Xplornet for comment but did not hear back by deadline.

An unidentified number of households have seen improvements to internet service as a result of funding from the P.E.I. Broadband Fund. A total of $845,445 was disbursed to both households and local internet service providers for home internet upgrades under the fund in 2020.

Stu Neatby is The Guardian's political reporter.

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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