Like groundhog Wiarton Willie, the topic of Internet service on the North Island reared its head at the Town of Port McNeill council meeting Feb. 2.
Mayor Shirley Ackland told her fellow councillors that she had spoken to Ray Lawson from Telus earlier in the day and was told they have completed all the the fibre optic installation to Port McNeill and within the next two weeks will be sending live signals.
“He is in charge of the project that is up here,” Ackland said.
As customers are migrated onto the system, the mayor was told “we will notice improved service.”
Skepticism remains though.
“Telus keeps telling us the same thing,” said Councillor Aaron Frost.
Frost said people are paying for high speed internet, and what they are receiving is akin to dial-up. He encouraged as many people as possible to call customer service and voice their concerns.
“It shows genuine community-mindedness,” agreed Councillor Jay Dixon.
Ackland said Lawson is scheduled to be present at the Regional District of Mount Waddington meeting set for February 17.
Ackland said, in a subsequent interview, that the lines from Port McNeill to Port Hardy have been in the ground for about the last 10 years, however the lines from Campbell River to Port McNeill did not exist until now.
Local councils are not the only government voices calling for improved service.
Improvements in communications are vital for the economic and social health of our communities as well as for safety, says North Island MLA Claire Trevena.
Trevena is urging both Telus and the Ministry of Technology and Citizen Services to step up and ensure North Island communities receive equity in service. She has written to request action on broadband internet, cell service and pagers.
“It’s 2015 and we are falling behind,” said Trevena.
“I regularly hear about the lack of cell coverage on our major highways – 19 and 28 – and another accident highlighted how desperate that need is.
“And we know we are getting improved internet service to Port McNeill, but Port Hardy and Port Alice also need to have broadband. It allows access to education, to healthcare, to economic opportunities.
“This is as important to communities as electrification once was. Our communities are no less deserving than the south island or lower mainland.”
There are still people on a waiting list to get on the internet, Trevena said.
Trevena is also raising, with both Telus and the government, concerns about the potential loss of pager service. In areas where there is no cell phone, pagers are the lifeline for emergency responders.
She has offered to work with Telus and the Ministry to find solutions which would allow all North Island communities be connected.