Pledge for better Internet hits home in slow-speed Manitoba

By Dylan Robertson, Winnipeg Free Press dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

The Liberals have pegged the cost of giving all households access to high-speed Internet from $5 billion to $6 billion, by way of grants to help launch low-orbit satellite connections. But Barlow estimates Canada needs closer to $9 billion to connect homes when faster broadband arrives in their area. “There’s a lot of work that still has to be done, even when you get fibre to a community,” he said. “The last mile’s the issue.”

Barlow also said better broadband connections would likely improve Manitoba’s spotty cellular reception. That’s because mobile companies would have incentive to connect cellphone towers to fibre connections, instead of pinging through a chain of towers. A report this month by the mobile data analytics firm Tutela found that Manitoba has the worst overall mobile connections in Canada, using its own calculation that looks at speed and quality. While Telus met a score of 75 per cent, the other main carriers fell short of Tutela’s metric for consistent quality.

The firm said part of the issue with both cellphone and landline connections in Manitoba is latency, with most Internet traffic having to reach servers on either coast of the country. That makes connections almost 20 per cent worse than most

provinces during complex tasks such as a video call. Even communities around Winnipeg are struggling to get adequate Internet connections, said Colleen Sklar, head of the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region. Her group represents 18 communities from Selkirk to Niverville, many of which can’t get reliable broadband.

“The capital region (has) a huge issue with access to high-speed Internet,” said Sklar, whose own daughter has had issues completing homework using their slow-loading connection. Her group has almost finished a proposal for public-private partnerships to encourage providers to install connections in areas they’ve so far decided aren’t worth the cost. “When the (federal) funding does come through, we’re ready to get rolling,” she said. “We really hope that Manitoba receives the share of funding that we so desperately need.”

Sklar said agricultural areas need reliable Internet to keep up with developments such as crop management and automated equipment. Barlow made that same point in urging Ottawa to allocate adequate cash. “I think Manitoba should get more; it’s the bread box of agriculture, it’s our future.”