Social distancing measures are critically important to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unable to interact in-person, Nova Scotians now rely on the internet for school, work, and family connections.

But a great number of Nova Scotia communities lack high-speed internet; they are unable to do many of the things that the rest of the province takes for granted.

All schools, from primary to high schools and universities have moved to on-line classes. Employers, where possible, are encouraging their employees to work from home, on-line. Banks are discouraging in-person business, recommending that everybody use on-line banking. Government offices are now almost exclusively only accessible over the internet.

Photo: Julie M. Cameron. https://www.pexels.com/@julia-m-cameron

For some people in Nova Scotia, this poses a challenge because it’s not what they’re used to – but it works, in spite of the learning curve.

For others, however – living in so-called “rural” communities – even something as simple as sending a message by email is tedious; doing classwork on-line is an exercise in frustration; and attending an on-line work meeting is utterly futile.

Let’s be clear … the term “rural” is not reserved for isolated stretches of unpaved roads. “Rural” is not the same as “Remote“. These under-served communities are not on inaccessible mountaintops or in far-flung corners of the province. They are within minutes of well-serviced Nova Scotia towns and municipalities.

My home, for example, is beside a provincial highway just ten minutes from downtown Sydney. My property tax assessment gives every indication that my house is suburban by most standards.

So I don’t feel any hesitation in complaining about the deplorable internet service.

My two children are in high school and university. Since the social restrictions imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 they both struggle to download their course work. Likewise, I have moved my office from downtown Sydney into my home – but it is impossible to complete some very basic work tasks.

For instance, today – for work – it took six and half hours to upload a 4-minute video to YouTube.

Last week I was forced to breach isolation and return to my workplace so I could participate in a Zoom meeting.

On-line banking sessions “time-out” before transactions can complete.

In Canada, the government has clearly defined high-speed internet: “The minimum target speed for all Canadians is 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload” 1.

In my case – best case scenario – when the weather is good the download speed at my residence averages somewhere less than 1.0 Mbps. The upload is always less than 0.5 Mbps. When it rains, snows, or even under heavy overcast there is no internet. None.

Screenshot of Xplornet speedtest results
Actual results of speed-test performed at my home on April 14, 2020.

Ironically, this extremely poor level of service also happens to be extremely expensive; currently $129/month.

So, outside of complaining, I will end with a question:

After the federal and provincial governments have paid billions to internet providers – including Seaside, Eastlink, Bell, and Xplornet – how is it possible that homes on a main road only minutes from the municipal centre can lack functional internet connectivity?

A few months ago Develop Nova Scotia 2. – the provincial government’s crown corporation responsible for connecting “rural” communities – announced that high-speed internet (fiber) would finally be made available in Boisedale; a community not far from my own – but much more rural, with far fewer residences.

After several requests, I learned from Develop NS that Bell Aliant was awarded the contract to upgrade the Boisedale service. Bell, however, is refusing to provide any information on the future service – leaving the area’s residents in the dark about a project that seems to be moving at the speed of rural internet.

1. https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/139.nsf/eng/h_00002.html

2. https://developns.ca/projects/high-speed-internet/

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