Keta Cable boosts bandwidth

Town of Port McNeill approves antenna installation, expanding Keta's infrastructure.

PORT McNEILL—Having already relieved broadband internet congestion in its markets in Port McNeill, Alert Bay and Sointula, Keta Cable was back at work this week expanding its network capability.

But that doesn’t mean wait-listed customers in Port Hardy will be able to access high-speed service immediately.

“We’re currently pushed through to Port McNeill, but there’s still a lot of work to do to link up with Port Hardy,” said James Bayliss, technical manager for Keta Cable. “I would hate to give an estimate; it will be status quo until they’re linked in.”

Status quo in Port Hardy means a continued wait for prospective new subscribers. Since Telus Communications reached its bandwidth capacity more than a year ago, its has placed new subscribers on a wait list while it works to install a fibre-optic line along Highway 19.

In a presentation to Port Hardy council, Telus projected a May 2014 activation of the line, leaving Port Hardy customers with options limited to satellite service.

Keta Cable, which purchased its bandwidth from Telus, was in the same straits until its recent purchase of additional bandwidth from Shaw Communications. That bandwidth was delivered last month to Alert Bay from Campbell River, via a radio tower atop Newcastle Ridge.

“That took all our Alert Bay customers out of the Port McNeill pool, as well as Sointula,” said Bayliss. “There are no service waits (for cable connection) in Port McNeill.”

The next phase in Keta Cable’s plan was to connect the signal from Alert Bay to a tower in Port McNeill, providing a critical link to extend the bandwidth up the Island. But when the company’s installation contractor, North Island Communications of Campbell River, could not get a line of sight to the Port McNeill tower, it applied to the Town of Port McNeill Nov. 4 for permission to install a receiving antenna atop the Town’s water tower.

That permission was granted this month and a contract was signed that will net Port McNeill $200 per month in rental fees. But the approval took councillors by surprise, and at the last council meeting, Nov. 18, Mayor Gerry Furney was unable to get a second to a motion to retroactively approve the lease.

“Council had no idea we reached a decision,” said Coun. Gaby Wickstrom. “I don’t think any of us were against the project itself in principal, just the fact that an agreement was reached without further input from those of us around the table.”

With the installation of the antenna on the water tower this week, Keta Cable may begin the process of expanding its service to Port Hardy. Telus has a fibre-optic line between the communities, but Keta Cable does not have access to it.

“We’re on about our eighth plan to provide that access to Port Hardy,” said Bayliss. “Right now we’re looking at linking them via radio signal.

“But our number one goal is not to add customers or offer great new packages. We want to improve service to our current paying customers and make it as enjoyable for them as possible.”

That includes the possibility of boosting maximum monthly bandwidth limits, for which the company has been criticized even while it has steadily increased that limit for residential customers over the past five years without raising its base rate.

“It’s certainly on our radar,” Bayliss said. “Our customers have told us they want higher usage limits. That’s something we’ll be looking at.”