SEVEN HILLS—It was something of a mixed bag for North Islanders as representatives from Telus gave an update on the scheduled internet overhaul at a presentation hosted by Port Hardy and Port McNeill Chambers of Commerce last week at Seven Hills Golf and Country Club.
Areas with existing coverage should see an immediate boost in speed when the current phase of the fibre upgrade is complete — now expected before Christmas. And cellphone users should see a boost too, as plans are in place to upgrade the current cell towers to the LTE standard.
On the other hand, there was little for those in areas like Port Alice, Hyde Creek and Storey’s Beach to get excited about. Residents hoping the project would herald an expansion of Telus’ service footprint will have to wait and see, as the representatives refused to be drawn into commitments beyond the current scope of the project.
Ray Lawson, CSD General Manager for Vancouver Island, and Kevin Midwood, Senior Project Manager, met with local civic leaders before Tuesday’s public presentation, which also counted elected officials from each of the Tri-Port towns in attendance.
Lawson acknowledged that the project was behind the schedule outlined in original estimates. He pointed to a semi-experimental trenching machine, used for the first time in Canada on this project and brought in with the expectation of laying close to a kilometre of line a day. It fell foul of the backfill used in the road’s construction and has since been replaced with a pair of excavators. Coupled with a Ministry of Transport-mandated hiatus over the winter, the delay pushed the expected completion back from April/May to late November.
Work is currently edging towards Woss on the first leg of the project, but Lawson promised an accelerated effort on the second leg, with extra excavators committed to connect Woss and Port McNeill. From there, Lawson explained, fibre is already in place to connect to Port Hardy, Alert Bay and Coal Harbour.
“We’re going to move all the construction resources to the north leg of the project as well, so we’ll actually have four machines working at the same time to try to get this all done in a hurry,” he told the audience.
Once the fibre is connected and local equipment upgraded, current users should notice an end to the peak-time slowdowns, and the company will open the doors to new customers once more.
Lawson initially gave an approximate date of November 29 for completion but later hedged a little, offering “before Christmas,” for end-to-end completion. “We’re still six months out, a lot of things could happen,” he said, “but it would be a nice Christmas gift.”
“We’re delayed,” Midwood added, “but the thing is, I’m very confident; we’re not going to get weathered out. We’re going to have light at the end of our fibre before year-end, in fact, November.”
Several residents broached the subject of expanded coverage during the question phase, asking about plans for North Islanders outside the current footprint.
“Port Alice and all of the other feeder communities will be a subsequent process and a subsequent review that we’ve already started and we’ll be continuing into the fall,” said Lawson, noting that any future expansion must “make business sense at some level.”
He explained that, per company policy, there would be no investment of resources into examining expansions until the current upgrade was complete.
Asked for prospects and a timeline for expansion by a Port Alice resident, Lawson said that the presentation was only on the foundation and that he couldn’t give a definitive timeline for other communities. “We haven’t done the groundwork on the ‘Once that’s in place, what does connectivity to Port Alice or the other places actually look like?’ We will look at that.”
Overall, the message for all North Islanders remained the same: have patience. “It took us a lot of years to get here,” said Lawson. “It’s going to take us not a lot of years, but a few months to get out of it.”