Greens critical of Liberal promise for high-speed internet in rural P.E.I.

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is weighing in on the provincial and federal government's' promise to bring high-speed internet to more rural areas of the Island.

The governments announced last week a plan to spend more than $35 million on a broadband infrastructure project that promises to deliver high-speed internet to almost 30,000 residents through fibre and fixed wireless technologies.

"I think if you ask rural Islanders if past promises have resulted in even adequate and workable internet, let alone the best in the country, the answer is a resounding 'no,'" Bevan-Baker said in a written new release.

'Virtual monopoly' 

Federal Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan and P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan made the announcement at a news conference in Tracadie Cross, P.E.I., last week.

Tim Wimborne/Reuters

The federal government is spending more than $33 million and the provincial government more than $3.5 million on the project and the rest — more than $37 million — will come from Bell Canada and Xplornet.

Ten companies submitted proposals after the provincial government issued a request for proposals last August for high-speed internet solutions in rural areas of P.E.I.

Bevan-Baker said he is concerned with how the deal could create a virtual monopoly on P.E.I. by subsidizing large national companies while potentially excluding local internet service providers.

"I would like to see a new agreement on rural broadband that includes local service providers and is focused on increasing competition, increasing service quality, and lowering prices for Islanders," he said in the release, urging government to negotiate a better deal. 

'Cash cow'

P.E.I. NDP also weighed in on the deal in a release Monday, calling it a government-funded, privately-owned operation.

Herb Dickieson, the NDP nominee for District 25, O'Leary-Inverness, said it is a "gift horse" that Islanders "may want to carefully review."

"It is a cash cow for Bell that will just keep giving," Dickieson said, adding he is also worried about a monopoly situation. 

Islanders in some rural areas have for years been critical of government and industry's efforts to provide high-speed internet. Some P.E.I. communities like Miltonvale Park and the North Shore resort municipality invested their own money in local projects to deliver better internet. 

The province said the project will create new potential for innovation and economic development by helping business owners connect with new markets, allowing better access to services and providing students with the ability to broaden their studies.

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