Eastlink chided by Premier Stephen McNeil over rural internet cap

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NSBI gets more autonomy from Nova Scotia government

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is scolding Eastlink over its decision to cap rural broadband internet packages, calling the current service "completely unacceptable" in parts of the province and the company's defence of it "ridiculous."

The premier made the comments following mounting frustration this week as Eastlink moves to cap its rural packages at 15 gigabytes a month come August. Usage over than that will require customers to pay up to $20 more.

"To add insult to injury, they tell these Nova Scotians who have inadequate service that we want to you to pay more," McNeil told reporters. "It's just simply not acceptable to us as a government."

The Eastlink cap has touched off a nerve in parts of rural Nova Scotia. Business owners are complaining and say their internet connection is already slower than promised.

McNeil said the province has been trying to work with internet providers to improve service, which in some areas is "not up to scratch, it's like dial-up."

The provincial and federal governments invested nearly $34 million in 2007 to bring high-speed internet to rural parts of the province. On Thursday, McNeil wouldn't rule out more public money being spent.

"We are running out of patience, quite frankly, as a government with what we believe is inadequate service," McNeil said.

Eastlink has said its goal is to deliver service at the standard designed eight years ago by the "government of the day" — an explanation the premier calls "ridiculous."

 Under Eastlink's rural package changes, customers will be forced to pay $2 a month for each gigabyte they use beyond the 15 limit, up to a maximum of $20 extra each month . Fifteen gigabytes a month is equal to about 15 hours of Netflix viewing.

'Operators have not reinvested'

And rural Nova Scotia may not be alone. A Toronto-based researcher who studies broadband internet says the cap on service is part of a growing trend in Canada.

"In rural areas, data caps are becoming more popular as demand goes up," said Reza Rajabiun, a research fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.

"The programs — for example the one that was installed in Nova Scotia — they were installed a few years ago and demand has gone up quite a bit in the last few years."

Rajabiun says internet providers have to shoulder part of the blame.

"Operators have not reinvested in the network, so as demand goes up for video games and Netflix, the quality of service degrades," he told CBC's Information Morning.

Eastlink's Rural Connect service is $46.95 a month, and provides service to Annapolis, Hants, Digby, Yarmouth, Queens, Lunenburg, Shelburne and Kings counties.