Rural internet use increases and speeds slow during provincial shutdown

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Alex Kurial
Local Journalism Initiative

If you’re internet seems slower than normal, you can, at least indirectly blame COVID-19. Systems are strained as people work and go to school from home and local politicians are hearing about the issue.
Ontario schools have been ordered closed until at least May 4. And the number of people working from home swelled when the province ordered more businesses to close last week.
“The biggest problem is everyone is trying to download education materials for the kids,” says St. Clair Mayor Steve Arnold. “But the utilities are doing the best that they can at this time.”
Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Alan Broad hears the same concerns.
“With all the extra people being home internet speeds are definitely slower than what they were in the past,” says Broad. “We’ve got some providers that are pretty good. Some others are trying. But for the most part in rural Dawn-Euphemia, our internet services are somewhat challenged, especially with all the people and students and parents being home.”
Even before the mass exodus back home, rural Lambton has had internet issues.
St. Clair Township will see some relief by the end of next year as fibre broadband service will arrive in more than 1,700 premises through Cogeco under the SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology) broadband expansion project. Highland Glen, Kettle Point and Lambton Shores are also set for fibre upgrades.
Broad hopes that Dawn-Euphemia will soon be on SWIFT’s list of targeted communities. Cogeco and the township took part in an “internet speed test” in December to assess the state of broadband access in the area. 
Internet providers, like Brooke Telecom in Central Lambton, say they’re doing their best to meet demand.
“We do have customers that have requested speed upgrades, and we are working to accommodate those. We’ve seen an increase in traffic, which is pretty normal across the board,” says Brooke Telecom General Manager Geoff Greening.
“Many of our customers are served on fibre so it’s not that hard to increase the bandwidth for customers. They’re fairly fortunate that they can fairly easily upgrade their speeds.”
Big streaming services like Netflix have cut the broadband speed needed as well, and that is making a difference to customers.
Greening says he isn’t worried that Brooke will have to take measures made by providers such as TekSavvy based in Chatham-Kent, which has laid off workers and increased rates.
The company has altered their installation policies guiding new customers through self-installation rather than entering homes and risking infection.
Cogeco says the company is maintaining service now and in the months ahead. 
“Cogeco Connexion has invested heavily in its fibre-broadband infrastructure over the past years to build bandwidth capability and to achieve high levels of reliability and redundancy,” Anastasia Unterner, senior manager of Cogeco communications and public relations says.
“This allows the network to accommodate increased levels of demand during this time, especially as work-from-home arrangements become increasingly necessary.”