Rural residents react to plan to extend broadband service

Diane Crocker
Published on July 18, 2014

The conversation takes place via Skype with Vance Ashby sitting in front of his computer at his home in South Branch and the reporter on the line from Corner Brook.

The connection and clarity is pretty good considering Ashby’s Internet connection is what he describes as “barely highspeed.”

Like many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living in rural areas, Ashby has had to deal with poor Internet service.

But that will change as the province announced Wednesday the third phase of its Rural Broadband Initiative to extend coverage to 5,086 households in 102 communities. South Branch is on the list with Burgeo Broadcasting System to provide the coverage.

Ashby, a retired salesperson, has been living in South Branch for more than 12 years and is a big Internet user.

“I like to connect to the world, get news, talk to people, send emails, send professional submissions and proposals to government agencies.”

In a practical application he’s used the Internet to learn what he needed to build an addition on his home.

However, his Internet service has never been up to speed with his needs — first through Bell dialup and currently through Burgeo Broadcasting Service, which he said is slightly better.

Since 2009 he’s been advocating for better service by contacting the provincial government and Internet providers.

It’s because of previous experience that Ashby wasn’t quite ready Thursday to offer up praise on the initiative.  

“We’ve heard this intention before,” he said “We’ve heard these announcements before, many years ago with no to little effect.”

He also questions the who, when, how and what they’ll be offering and laughs a little when told the official announcement doesn’t include a timeline for the service to be installed.

“You know when somebody makes a statement if they’re not attaching a timeline to it what kind of faith can you put in it,” he said.

But even with his reservations Ashby does see some positives.

“It’s a wonderful connection, a breakthrough in connection to the world and friends and families,” he said. “Family relationships could be enhanced either by voice only or by Skype picture phone if the speed is fast enough at both ends.”

He also said the potential is there to improve long-distance learning in remote communities.

“This is going to dramatically extend that capability to these remote communities who are not now served.”

The trickle-down effect is that this could result in the retention of more youth.

“Kids grow up here and they leave. But if they feel they are part of the world because they have highspeed, I would think the retention would be improved for the province,” said Ashby.

Amanda Hulan also sees some positives in the announcement.

Hulan is the office manager of the Bay St. George South Area Development Association. The association office is located in McKay’s and has broadband, but communities under its scope like Highlands, Loch Leven and Tuckers Pond don’t.

The association has been requesting the service on behalf of residents of those communities for a number of years and now they’re on the list.

“I guess it would make living in a rural community easier,” said Hulan.

“You’ve got cases where there are seniors and they need to be able to access different forms or different services online because everything is geared more online now. And then you have the families with kids in school who need to be able to do their research and their homework and connect with friends,” she said.

“It’s gonna make everything faster, and easier and more accessible.”