Feds, province team up on high-speed Internet for south coast

James McLeod
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Around 2,000 homes on the province's south coast will get broadband Internet access within the next few months, thanks to money from Ottawa, the provincial government and Bell Aliant.

(From left) Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development Terry French, Senator David Wells, Geoff Davis, regional vice-president sales, Bell Aliant, and Chief Misel Joe, Miawpukek First Nation, take part in a news conference at Confederation Building Friday where $4 million in funding was announced for Broadband service to the Connaigre Penninsula.

The catalyst for the new fibre optic line was Chief Misel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River.

Joe said the current Internet service is so bad that it limits the whole region in a big way.

"It's about two notches above a smoke signal," he said. "We're finally here. I know at times it's been frustrating. At times I thought nobody cared that we were down on the Connaigre and we weren't getting the things done that we needed."

In recent years, the province's south coast has been transformed by the aquaculture industry, with more employment and commerce happening in the area.

When it comes to shipping fresh fish out of the communities and getting it to market on the mainland, speedy communications is a must, Innovation, Business and Rural Development Minister Terry French said.

"Our government is committed to advancing rural broadband coverage and improving the province's telecommunications environment," he said.

"We recognize that it's critical to industry's success and it's a central component in the province's innovation infrastructure."

Conservative Senator David Wells was on hand, and also plugged the value of broadband when it comes to economic development.

"This line will serve as the foundation for enhanced broadband connectivity throughout the southern part of the province," he said.

"This significant investment also highlights the Government of Canada's commitment to working in partnership with aboriginal people to create healthier and more prosperous communities."

For Joe, it was more about the children of the community, and possibly using the improved connection to develop some sort of partnership with Memorial University.

Right now, he said, Internet speeds are a major problem.

"If you want to do banking, you've got to get on early, like way early in the morning. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon when school is out it gets worse," he said.

"Our children can have better access to the world. It means that we now have a tool that we can use and go forward."

Friday's announcement was sufficiently positive news that neither the Liberals nor the NDP really had anything bad to say about it.

Both Liberal MHA Paul Lane and New Democrat George Murphy said the main thing is that the government needs to keep moving, expanding high-speed Internet into more areas.

"In yesteryear, we were happy to have a highway in, but now we've got an information highway that we've got to get in to all residents of this province," Murphy said.

Geoff Davis, regional vice-president for Bell Aliant, said the company knows what Internet service is worth to people.

"At Bell Aliant, we fully recognize the importance of quality Internet access and what it provides for both individuals and businesses," he said.

Friday's news conference was also notable because it was one of the first times in recent memory that federal and provincial politicians were at the same table.

Despite battles and frosty relations between the federal Conservatives and the provincial Progressive Conservatives, French and Wells were cheerful and co-operative.

"I think when both people are willing to open up their chequebooks, it's amazing the things that can come together," French said.

"Yeah, we can work together. Sure we can. We've worked together many, many times in the past. We've had our differences in the past, but we've put them aside for the benefit of the people of the province."

Organizations: Miawpukek First Nation, Bell Aliant, NDP Progressive Conservatives

Geographic location: Conne River, Canada

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