Politicians fear south Lambton could go back to dial-up

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Leslea Williams doesn’t want to go back to the days of dial-up internet service.

The Dawn-Euphemia councilor is one of many voicing concerns about changes Industry Canada is considering to wireless communications – changes Lambton County officials say sacrifices the needs of rural Ontario for better cell phone coverage.

Lambton County officials say Industry Canada is considering turning radio frequencies used to provide wireless internet accessin much of southern Lambton County over to companies to increase bandwidth for cellular service providers.

“If that happens, a significant number of current residential and business customers in Lambton County will lose their existing high-speed Internet service. Access to Internet is the foundation of economic enterprise in rural areas. This proposal is a step backwards for Lambton County,” writes Warden Todd Case in a letter to Industry Canada.

Williams agrees. She says in 2007 Dawn-Euphemia partnered with a number of rural municipalities, including St. Clair and Enniskillen Township and some of Chatham-Kent, to get Bell Aliant to provide high-speed service in the rural area. “It cost over a half million dollars,” she says.

With the changes, that service would disappear and Case says people would have to resort to either using ‘rocket sticks’ on a pay as you go basis – which can add up to hundreds of dollars a month or resort to costly satilite service. “It’s going to force rural residents to pay higher rates.”

St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold agrees saying when people who rely on the Internet for business can get plans in a larger centre, like Sarnia, for $29.95 a month, “no one will come out to rural areas” to set up shop.

There are a number of projects going on now to improve internet services to rural areas across the province, including a mult-million dollar project partnering municipalities with small internet providers. That project is scheduled to take decades to complete.

Case has been investigating the problem in his own backyard – Warwick – and says some companies are willing to build the infrastructure needed in remote areas, but would charge it back to the customers on top of the monthly fees. One resident had a quote of $2,500 to get high speed internet service to his door.

The high cost of internet alternatives and the time frames involved make Industry Canada’s proposal even more concerning.

“While the service is not perfect,” Case writes in a letter to Industry Canada, “it does improve the lives of many and losing it will negatively impact these rural families and businesses. The county and its rural residents have been assured that other “superior” options are available should their current services be eliminated however these options will not provide the same level of service nor will they provide anything close to the Internet services their urban neighbours have access to.

Williams is worried residents of Dawn-Euphemia will have little or no service if the changes go through. “I think we’ll be back to pre-2007 with dial-up and hit and miss service – if you were even able to get it at all.

“I’m very nervous we’re going to go back to pre -2007especially for families and  small businesses who use it extensively…it is their connection to much larger world.”

And in rural areas already loosing residents to larger cities because of lack of jobs and the high cost of community, losing access to high speed internet would be another blow, according to Case. “You need it in order to do business in the country,” he says.

Arnold believes the loss of internet will be a critical blow to rural Lambton.  “The rural part of our landscape will be abandoned.”