'It's just not a strong signal': Residents in rural P.E.I. asked to test their internet speed

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The province of P.E.I. hopes an online test will give them a better understanding of internet speeds in rural P.E.I.

The test, which is available on the provincial government web site, will measure and record upload and download speeds of internet service.

P.E.I. residents and businesses are asked to take the test — except those who have fibre-powered or cable internet service. About 3,000 people have done the test so far. 

"We want to gather further information about internet speeds across the province," said Cal Whitnell, senior director of economic research with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

"We want to ensure that all Islanders have adequate and improved internet services, so this survey is going to identify those remaining gaps," he said.

Frustrations for rural Islanders

Vicki Reddin-Gauthier who runs Dreamweavers Cottages and Vacation Homes in Rusticoville, P.E.I. is frustrated by the internet service she has. 

"I just never know if I have enough capacity," she said. "It's just not a strong signal for guests compared to what they're used to." 

MLA for Rustico-Emerald Brad Trivers worked as a web developer before being elected as a member of the Opposition. He explained he hears from constituents all the time who are unhappy with their internet speeds. 

"A lot of people out here … have speeds much lower 0.4, 0.7, sometimes even 0.3 [megabits per second (Mbps)]," said Trivers. 

"If you're receiving less than one megabit per second than I would say it would be extremely hard to watch a movie on Netflix, you couldn't use Skype."

'One of the most contentious issues'

Trivers said especially tourism related businesses find it difficult to not have reliable high speed internet. 

"I just think it's unacceptable," said Trivers. "This has got to be one of the most contentious issues in the district."

Whitnell said the province estimates about 20 per cent of Islanders can not access adequate internet service, and this test will allow government to have detailed information with an exact civic address.  

Whitnell defined adequate as five megabits per second minimum.

Needs have changed since 2008

Bell Aliant was awarded the contract for Island-wide internet in 2008. The company said as of 2010 broadband speeds of 1.5 Mbps were available in every home.  

Whitnell said since then, the needs of residents and businesses have changed.

"The speeds that were relevant and adequate a few years ago are no longer," he said. 

He explained the contract with Bell was done several years ago, and that although the province has a contract with that company until the end of 2019, others are allowed to offer services. 

"The contract has no impact on any company continuing to expand services across the province," said Whitnell. 

He said the province has met with numerous internet providers. 

Xplornet communications was awarded $1.6 million in federal funds to increase internet service to 12,000 households. 

Funding may be available

Whitnell said government would consider providing funds to improve rural internet services. 

"We've informed internet service providers, community groups, and municipalities, they can come forward to us with an expression of interest or a proposal," he said.

"We'd consider potential funding, or consider potential access to government infrastructure, whether that be our towers, or land."

The province said more federal funding may also help expand rural internet service, as the federal government recently announced a new initiative with millions of dollars in funding to improve services throughout the country.  

The CRTC also recently declared broadband should be considered a basic service.

Test results posted on line

The province is conducting the speed test for the month of April as well as for a few weeks in June to catch seasonal residents. 

The plan is to put together a map, and publish it on the government website showing internet speeds that exist.

"We want to make sure Islanders have an opportunity to see the results on line," said Whitnell.

The Department of Economic Development said it expects major expansion efforts by a number of internet providers. 

"I would see a big difference in the next year." said Whitnell.

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