Internet access may now be going where no Internet has gone before.
The B.C. government announced last week that it is seeking partners for a $2 million plan to bring affordable high-speed Internet to families in remote regions in the province.
"Better Internet connectivity also means improved access to public and government services such as e-health, and e-learning resources," said the Ministry of Citizens' Services and Open Government. "Access to affordable high-speed Internet will provide families and businesses in B.C.’s remote regions with a wide range of new social and economic benefits."
While the plan will only affect an estimated three per cent of the population, it will allow them to access many of the facilities that many of us take for granted.
“It’s only for those people who don’t have access to any sort of affordable Internet connection, or possibly no Internet connection at all right now,” explained Brad Melanson, system administrator with the Peace Region Internet Society (PRIS).
“The main population of the Peace – such as people in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Tumbler Ridge, Hudson’s Hope, places like that and the outside regions – they won’t actually be affected by it.”
On Nov. 9, the province issued a Request for Expressions of Interest on contractors who would be able to build technology that would allow more remote regions of the province to experience high-speed internet.
Approximately three per cent of B.C.'s population lives in areas where satellite technology is the only option available for high-speed internet since cable and other landlines are not available, according to the press release.
“It’s more for the three per cent of British Columbians that don’t have access to affordable Internet service. It would be the outside regions of the Peace area that would potentially be affected by that,” said Melanson.
He also explained why some people in the outlying areas may not currently have Internet access.
“It gets real hard, because the population density gets to such a low amount, that us putting up a tower or an access point just isn’t economically feasible,” he said. “You’re going to have one house that’s in a valley, and the next house isn’t for a couple of miles, that’s where you get into a situation where satellite makes sense.”
Distance, difficult terrain and small markets all contribute to the challenge of delivering broadband internet to these places.
“It’s still going to be in the region, but it shouldn’t necessarily affect us that much in this area specifically, it’s more in the outside edges,” added Melanson.
Under the B.C. Broadband Satellite Initiative, the government will invest up to $2 million through 2016-2017 to provide these internet options.
"One of the issues [the BC Government Rural Caucus] heard as we consulted with British Columbians was the need to make access to high-speed internet more affordable in remote areas of B.C.," said BC Government Rural Caucus chair Donna Barnett. "We've listened and acted on this issue."
B.C. residents who qualify for the program would receive funding assistance for both installation and set-up costs, as well.
The Province expects to complete the procurement process by next March.
The B.C. government hopes to give everyone in B.C. access to high-speed Internet by 2021.
With files from Megan Gorecki