Internet could reach elusive areas

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marathon, Ont. — Rural Thunder Bay residents who contend with spotty or slow internet connections may soon be able to benefit from a provincial plan to provide access to reliable satellite-based services.

The government said this week it will consider proposals from satellite companies that can cater to 43,000 homes and businesses across the province in areas without ready access to land-based internet options.

“Where ground-based infrastructure is currently not an option, a qualified satellite service provider will ensure that the hardest to reach areas will have access to reliable high-speed internet,” Ontario Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma, a Toronto-area MPP, said Wednesday in a news release.

Conservative MPP Kevin Holland (Thunder Bay-Atikokan), a former Conmee Township mayor whose riding includes municipalities that surround Thunder Bay, applauded the initiative.

“This is something (Holland) has been looking into, and wants to bring to the riding,” a spokesman for Holland said in an email.

Though both Tbaytel and Bell Canada are in the process of upgrading internet services in townships like Neebing and Oliver Paipoonge, some people who live in those communities may still remain without high-speed options even after those upgrades are complete.

“Some people hot-spot off their cellphones, but cell service is spotty or non-existent in some parts of Neebing,” Neebing clerk-treasurer Erika Kromm has noted.

In the interim, some rural users have signed up for Starlink, a division of SpaceX, the California company owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

The service has reportedly been reliable, but is more expensive compared to internet plans being offered by Tbaytel, for instance.

According to its website, Starlink offers rural Canadians high-speed internet for $140 per month, plus a separate charge for required hardware.

Earlier this year, Ontario’s NDP noted that internet service in many parts of the North remain either scarce or not affordable, and that Northern Ontario residents pay some of the highest rates in the world.

The party cited a 2021 CRTC report, which said access to high-speed internet is available to less than 60 per cent of rural Canadian households. In First Nations, the report said, the connection rate was only 33 per cent.

Under Premier Doug Ford, the Conservative government has vowed to ensure that every Ontario resident has access to high-speed internet by 2025.