Internet access has become increasingly important since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as people moved online for work, school and other important tasks and needs. Although some communities are looking for ways to set up better broadband access, a small community in Haida Gwaii will be losing its internet access entirely.
Xplornet, a rural high-speed internet provider, has just informed its customers in Haida Gwaii it is shutting down satellite internet service as of Dec. 31.
In a notice to customers, Xplornet said this is because the satellite used to provide service in those areas has “reached the end of its life and will no longer be available.”
Though many residents can switch to other Internet services with other providers, northern Tlell, located on the eastern side of Graham Island, will have no alternative.
Sophie Peerless, a teacher in northern Tlell has been scrambling to get access to what’s become a much needed communication tool for her and her students.
“If there’s no internet access and we’re supposed to communicate with the kids, I’m not too sure how that’s going to happen,” she said.
Peerless has been with Xplornet since she moved to Tlell, home to about 180 people, from Charlotte in 2006.
In 2016, the CRTC declared broadband internet a basic telecommunications service, ordering Canadian internet providers to work toward boosting internet service and speeds in rural and isolated areas.
That boost hasn’t arrived in parts of Tlell.
There are no other options for Peerless and her neighbours; after extensive research she’s found no dial up services, no broadband internet and no fibre optic that reaches northern Tlell.
“I don’t think enough attention is paid to people in remote areas,” Peerless said.
“I know that some people are going to say, well, you chose to live there, and you’re right, we did, but we also thought the internet was going to be available.”
Steve Van Groningen, manager of corporate affairs, said there are no plans to provide alternative services to customers who will lose their internet, but that new satellites continue to be brought online.
“I’m not asking for high speed internet. I’d be happy with medium or slow speed internet just to stay connected,” Peerless said.
She’s contacted local officials, other service providers like GwaiiTel and Mascon to find out if they can help. She hasn’t heard back. However, Jennifer Rice, the NDP member of the legislature for the North Coast, did respond in a statement to a CBC request for comment.
Rice said the B.C. government is aware of the potential loss of internet access for some Xplornet customers across Canada. She said the government understands Xplornet is working on alternative solutions for the affected customers.
Meanwhile, Rice said, provincial and federal governments are working to remedy the “national challenge” of limited connectivity in remote communities through the Connected Coast project.
The B.C. government is contributing $11.3 million to the project, which will extend new or enhanced high-speed internet to rural, remote and Indigenous communities on the B.C. Coast, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island.
“Once completed, the project will provide Haida Gwaii with a fast and reliable connection to the mainland that will solve many of the capacity issues currently experienced in the region,” Rice said in the statement.
A spokesperson for the CRTC said the regulatory agency is aware of the issue and has contacted Xplornet but is awaiting a response.
“We are looking into the matter, however, we have no regulations on obligation-to-serve for internet service,” a CRTC statement said.