'We're in 2021 here': Internet struggle is real for Grand Manan

·4 min read

Jenna Russell says her home internet service on Grand Manan can't function while there are more than two devices, including cellphones, running at one time. This creates problems when her son is working at home for his schooling.

"Especially during these times, that access is so important for everybody. Whether it's connecting with family, whatever it is, I just think that we all have the right to access," she said.

Russell isn't the only one who feels this way on the island. Video calls with grandparents are difficult, staying in touch with work is hard and so are virtual doctors appointments and even paying bills online, according to Grand Manan islanders.

Russell said her son, who is in Grade 9, is learning virtually every other day, and it means that sometimes others will have to stop what they're doing in order for him to get proper bandwidth.

On Dec. 7, the power went out and so did Russell's wifi. She said it took nine days to get the wifi back on, and she asked Bell if she could get free data during that time to make up for the wait but she said they declined.

"They certainly do not want to work together to accommodate anyone."

In an email, Bell Aliant spokeswoman Katie Hatfield said Grand Manan is a "unique and challenging area to serve."

"We’re looking to work with various levels of government on funding partnerships to help accelerate network enhancements on the Island," she said.

Russell said she pays $200 for her high-speed ultra package with Bell – and sometimes more for additional data – and she can't even watch Netflix while other devices are running without it buffering every three minutes.

Upon testing her internet speed, Russell said she found she had 0.48 Megabits per second (Mbps) upload speed and 1.86 Mbps download speed. She said that could drop drastically if there's another device being used.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has set standards of all Canadian homes and businesses having access to broadband internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

Islander Sam McKenzie-Granger blames the internet for her six-year-old son believing his grandmother didn't love him any more. His grandmother couldn't visit him under the first wave and the family was having a hard time contacting his grandmother because the calls kept dropping and freezing.

McKenzie-Granger, who is homeschooling her kids in Grades 4 and 6, said she's given up on online resources.

"My internet speeds are virtually nonexistent," she said.

She pays $100 for a basic plan with Bell, where she typically gets 1.4 Mbps download speed and 0.48 Mbps upload.

Greg Kinghorne, a Grand Manan fisherman, said he needed to purchase a booster for his cellphone because he doesn't receive service in 40 per cent of the island. That means missing calls from work sometimes that could alert him about weather-related postponements.

"We're in 2021 here," he said. "We should be having cell coverage."

Grand Manan Mayor Dennis Greene said there's been a lot of complaints of about the issue that has existed for 15 to 20 years on the island. He said village council has tried contacting Bell with no success.

"I don't think a week goes by that we don't have, you know, a fair number of complaints."

He said he doesn't think it will drive people off the island, but it won't help to attract new residents.

Although some Grand Manan residents say Bell hasn't been helpful for the most part, some are looking forward to a new Grand Manan-based service.

Proximity Fiber, which is a high-speed internet service based in Grand Manan, is a couple steps away from connecting to NB Power's undersea cable, which would increase the service's bandwidth and supercharge its existing service. The connection will enable company Crave Technologies to connect to fibre-optic portions to provide service to Grand Manan, Campobello and Maine.

The existing service has covered 600 homes on Grand Manan and is seeking funding to expand to the full Fundy Isles, with help from government funding.

Howard Small, CEO of Crave Technologies, said he’s looking to offer baseline packages with internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps download and 1,000 Mbps upload with an option to go even higher. However, he said the company needs more funding to reach everyone on Grand Manan.

Right now, Russell doesn't have access to Proximity Fiber, but she says she looks forward to the service when she gets the chance.

"I know the whole island will be thrilled when they're able to spread out a bit further, so we're all anxiously awaiting that," she said.

"But you know, land only knows when that will come."

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal