Internet speeds, access falling way behind in Almaguin - Connected North -->

Internet speeds, access falling way behind in Almaguin

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ALMAGUIN – The numbers prove it: internet service in Almaguin is terrible.

According to Connected North, 70 per cent of residents across Northern Ontario have access to affordable, five megabits/per second internet service. In Almaguin, however, only 30 per cent of residents have the same connectivity.

Of that 30, the numbers vary widely. Some more urban areas, such as Burk’s Falls, have 73 per cent of their population serviced. South River, 100 per cent. Sundridge, 92 per cent. Others aren’t so lucky.

According to Connected North’s connectivity map, six municipalities in Almaguin have zero access to internet service running at five megabytes per second — the townships of Chisholm, Kearney, McMurrich/Monteith, Nipissing, Ryerson, and Whitestone are among those without highspeed.

And even those who aren’t at zero per cent, are still facing low numbers. Armour Township has four per cent of its 1,372 population with high-speed access. Joly Township, with 284 residents, at eight per cent. Powassan, with 3,378 residents and 101 businesses, has 54 per cent access.

It’s an access problem without an easy solution — and one that Almaguin’s been facing for years.

Susan Church, executive director of Blue Sky Net — a FedNor-funded organization dedicated to enhancing broadband access to the Almaguin and Nipissing region’s unserviced/underserved areas — says her agency applied for funding in January of 2015 to bring southern Almaguin up to 5 mbps of service. As of May 2016, she still hasn’t received an answer about whether funding will be granted.

“You know where the need is and almost by the time you finally do get an approval, the needs have changed again,” Church says.

The project would see residents in the communities of Armour, Burk’s Falls, Joly, Kearney, Magnetawan, McMurrich/Monteith, Perry, Ryerson, Strong, and Sundridge brought up to at least 5 mbps of service. The budgeted total cost for the project was $7 million.

“The technology is expensive,” Church says.

To engineer a series of towers alone and connect to Hydro would cost $1.6 million. And that doesn’t include additional expenses, such as the ongoing energy costs.

“That’s where it’s such an expensive thing to do and that’s where it’s very hard for citizens to understand why is it so expensive,” Church says. In addition, if an Internet service provider does make that investment, the speed still might not be enough. When residents in southern Ontario and larger centres have access to fibre, that’s more difficult in Almaguin.

“It takes about five years for the Internet service provider to get a return on their investment,” Church says.

“And then by that time, they need to upgrade everything all over again because it’s no longer valid. And they’re not really gaining any new customers. All they’re doing is not having to put further expense into upgrading for the new customers, so what do they do? It’s a vicious cycle that really does go around and around.”

There could be a solution. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commisssion (CRTC) recently held hearings on whether Internet access is an essential service for Canadians.

The results of these hearings are still being analyzed. Transcripts are available on the CRTC’s website.

Over the coming month, the Almaguin News will look at how Internet access affects the lives of those in our region and the components that go along with living here — residents, tourism, business, healthcare, and education.

What are the options available? Where is Wi-Fi accessible? And what, if anything, can be done?