Xplornet lays out plans for new P.E.I. internet service

Plan for fast Internet for all of P.E.I. on track

Xplornet Communications Inc. says it has secured locations for most of the 22 towers it needs to offer a new fixed wireless internet service on P.E.I.

Building materials have been ordered, and the company says customers in some areas will be able to sign up as early as mid-May.

Fixed wireless system

The company provided an update on its plans today to P.E.I.'s Standing Committee on Education and Economic Development. A year ago, the federal government announced it was providing Xplornet with up to $1.6 million in funding to provide broadband internet access to more than 12,000 households in communities across the Island.

Today the company said it expects its fixed wireless system to be completed by the end of September, using 12 existing towers and building approximately 10 new ones. That system will be accessible by about 80 per cent of Island households, the company said, explaining customers need a line of sight to a tower to be able to access the wireless signal.

Those unable to access a signal from one of the towers will be able to access the company's revamped satellite internet service by the end of the year, vice president Charles Beaudet said today, with a new satellite to be launched in May.

"Once we have the two programs together, we will offer high-speed internet of up to 25 megabits (per second) to 100 per cent of the Island," Beaudet said, "so anyone who wants to connect to the internet will have the availability."

Beaudet told the committee the company's prices will range from $49 to about $100 per month, depending on the package and speed the customer chooses to go with. He said the service will include limits on how much customers can download per month ranging from 50 to 500 gigabytes, with customers who go over the limit paying an extra $2 for each gigabyte of data over the limit.

Concerns raised

Some other smaller, local internet service providers have expressed concerns about competing against a new company with significant government backing.

"I'm trying to figure out how you compete against businesses that are subsidized with 50 and 75 per cent dollars," Kent England of Air Tech Communications told the committee today.

"My business plan doesn't allow for that. …How do I develop a business plan, how do I take it to the bank, how do I invest my money based on the risk of government disrupting the marketplace?"

England said his business is home-based, with about 1,000 customers in its service area in Prince County, and has never received government funding. He said he submitted an application for funding when the federal government issued its initial request for proposals but was turned down.

After the committee meeting he told CBC News he thought the $1.6 million in funding from Ottawa should have been spread around to multiple companies.

"I think bringing in a larger player could be good, but we also have to keep the smaller players involved as well," he said.

"Competition is a wonderful thing in any market. It keeps everybody honest, it keeps everybody astute, it provides the best-quality service for the customer, the user on the other end."

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