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The ‘digital have-nots’ of Winnipeg

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/01/2011 (4339 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Garth Hazlitt was planning his move from River Heights to Creek Bend Road he made the same phone call many new homebuyers do.

Hazlitt called his phone and cable provider to inform the company he’d need service at his family’s new address in the small St. Vital neighbourhood.

“MTS had told me it wasn’t a problem when I called up to transfer, because they assumed that it was inside the Perimeter,” Hazlitt recalled.

Arielle Godbout Garth Hazlitt said he would not have moved to Creek Bend Road if he had known there was no access to high-speed Internet.

It was only when Hazlitt was ready to actually move that he said he got a call, and an apology, from MTS. The company informed him that Creek Bend isn’t fitted with the fibre optic cable necessary for high-speed Internet.

Hazlitt, who until recently ran a small business out of his home, said he and his neighbours must instead rely upon inconsistent dial-up service or Internet sticks — small, mobile devices that allow the customer to access the Internet without a wireless connection, but is slower and costs more than high-speed Internet plans.

Hazlitt said the lack of high-speed service makes him feel disconnected from the rest of the city on a daily basis — and would have been a deterrent to moving to the area, had he been aware.

“I wouldn’t have moved. I love this spot, but —” he said, trailing off.

He’s not the only resident expressing frustration. Donna Hnatiuk has been calling MTS for a decade, asking when the dozen houses on Creek Bend Road might receive high-speed Internet.
The lack of an answer has been frustrating, she said.

Recently an MTS representative told her the service provider may be able to piggyback on other work being done in the area to install the necessary fibre optic cable, she said.

Hazlitt thought that “other work” could be connected to the construction of a condo project in the area.
But Hnatiuk said there’s no evidence those upgrades will happen.

“It’s kind of at a point where I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said.

MTS officials say the company does not have any plans to extend high-speed service to the Creek Bend area in the immediate future.

The company does offer the service to 99% of Winnipeg homes, a company spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

“Currently, about 12 homes in the Creek Bend area, which is a relatively small number, are unable to receive MTS high-speed Internet because of the limitations of the current copper technology,” the company said.

“At this time, we have yet to install newer fibre optic based technology in the area due to the high cost of upgrading and the relatively small number of homes that are affected. We will continue to evaluate expansion into areas like Creek Bend, as the number of households, condominiums and buildings grow.”
Dave Watson, another Creek Bend resident, said the lack of high-speed Internet service is hindering the quality of life for he and his neighbours.

Young children have trouble accessing the Internet for schoolwork, working from home is almost impossible and accessing government information online can be painfully slow, he said.

Watson cited his attempt to take an online school course as an example. He eventually had to withdraw because his Internet connection could not support the video-conferencing necessary for the course.

“The question is, if you’re a citizen and you want to be actively engaged — through business, education, politics, media, entertainment . . . are we at the point now where high speed is a human right?” Watson asked.

It’s a question that’s being echoed across the world, including in Ottawa.

This fall, the CRTC — the body tasked by the federal government to regulate the telecom industry — held a series of public hearings to determine whether broadband should be a basic service in Canada.

John Lawford, a counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre — a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of vulnerable consumer interests — said the CRTC has yet to make a decision.

His group made a submission to the commission suggesting that — much like the telephone — everyone should have access to high speed internet.

“Right now we’re waiting to see if the CRTC has the guts to extend it that way,” he said.

Lawford said while some European countries have taken the route of declaring broadband Internet a human right — such as Finland — Canada does not need to go that far.

Declaring high-speed Internet a basic service would ensure access to broadband Internet for the estimated 10% of Canadian homes who currently cannot access the service, he explained.

While Lawford said he’s not sure high-speed Internet is a human right, he said it is a necessary condition that allows citizens to exercise their other rights.

Without a regulation from CRTC compelling big companies to extend service across Canada — and lacking a compelling business case for them to do so on their own — Lawford said he doesn’t think high-cost areas will see high speed anytime soon.

“There will be a digital have-not class that is stuck permanently without any high-speed,” he said.

And no one knows what it’s like more than the residents of Creek Bend, as they continue to live in a technologically-advanced world without the tools to keep pace.

This was the final article in a three-part series exploring the changing neighbourhood of Creek Bend Road.

arielle.godbout@canstarnews.com

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