By KAY BURNS & KAREN WELLS
LAURENCETON — For the last several years there have been a variety of announcements from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador about the incremental growth of high-speed Internet access for rural citizens.
A government press release in September 2005 announced a $29.9 million expenditure stating, “This funding will provide broadband access to 68 schools and 103 communities, located in the rural and remote regions of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
A December 2011 press release announced a $4 million investment to improve broadband access on the island portion of the province (as well as $11.3 million to upgrade communication services in Labrador).
“As a government, we made a commitment to improving broadband access in underserviced rural communities,” said Innovation, Business and Rural Development Minister Keith Hutchings in that press release. “Today (Dec 22, 2011), I am very pleased to announce an important step in achieving our goal of having broadband access available throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
“ It will link those living in rural areas to educational, commercial, and social activities that are currently not available. Broadband is a bridge that connects rural communities to the same opportunities available in larger, more urban centres.”
This connectivity however still does not include numerous small communities. Rod and Patricia McLay, residents of Laurenceton, have been in contact with Bell Aliant for years to try and get a sense when they might begin to see high-speed Internet access in their community. Recently becoming aware that Brown’s Arm would be getting high-speed this year, Pat McLay sent a letter on Feb. 27 to the Pilot editor, to Lewisporte MHA Wade Verge and Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms, in a hope for some answers for her community.
Within her letter she states, “Aliant is the only service provider to Laurenceton.The dial-up product presently provided by Aliant is so slow that information being accessed is often deleted before it is downloaded. Individuals conducting business transactions, students doing schoolwork or just families trying to maintain contact with loved ones across the country are denied a level of service that is considered basic in this technological age.”
The McLay’s have not received any satisfactory answers yet. They have been told in the past that they can get satellite service for Internet but they say that is very expensive. Even the cost of dial-up is more expensive than the high-speed packages people in some other communities pay. The McLays have the sense that by having to pay the higher costs associated with dial-up for an inadequate service, it’s like they are subsidizing the costs of enabling those other communities to get the high-speed service that they themselves are being denied.
The McLay’s are not the only citizens of Laurenceton who have been frustrated by the lack of access to high-speed Internet. The Local Service District for Laurenceton instigated a petition to make their issue known.