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Relief coming for internet users

Shaw to build new fibre-optic cable between Whistler and Cache Creek

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Pemberton may be getting some relief for its longstanding internet issues.

With $1.9 million in provincial funding, another $2.2 million in federal funding and Shaw putting in $1.9 million, a new fibre-optic cable is set to connect Whistler to Mt. Currie and Lillooet to Cache Creek.

For Pemberton resident Robert Szachury—owner of Turbo Plumbing & Heating—faster internet can't come soon enough. "They get better internet in prison," he said.

Despite having accounts with both Telus and Shaw, Szachury said his internet connection is slow, making it impossible to use streaming services like Netflix and Apple TV.

To cope with it, he "kicks over" to his mobile provider's data network (which can cost him extra service charges) or visits Whistler businesses in order to use their Wi-Fi.

"It's a hindrance to my business—I get frustrated and I leave (the house)," he explained.

According to Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman, the issue has become so serious that new developments are unable to connect to land-based internet providers.

"Within the last 18 months, we've run out of capacity, which means if you build a new home or business, you cannot connect," said Richman.

"This announcement is the first big step in terms of addressing the problem for us," he said.

People are left with the option of turning to satellite providers, which can be problematic in places like the industrial park, where service is spotty, said Richman.

Though he has yet to see Shaw's full proposal, Richman said he expects Shaw will bring out the main fibre-optic line and smaller providers will be able to link off it.

"We want to get to a place that allows for more connections and better connections and more services and packages that people can chose from," said Richman.

The Sea to Sky project is one of five B.C. projects aimed at bringing high-speed internet access to rural and Indigenous communities and is receiving a portion of $38 million in federal, provincial and partner funding.

According to B.C. Minister of Citizens' Services Jinny Sims, high-speed internet is "a foundation" for economic growth and an important tool in reigning in the income gap between Lower Mainland and rural B.C. residents. B.C. contributed $11.3 million to four of the projects.

"High-speed internet is the foundational piece when it comes to economic growth," she said.

Sims looks to Rossland as a place where fast internet has helped foster a strong tech economy, bringing jobs paying over $100,000 a year. Sims also sees bringing internet to Indigenous communities as a form of reconciliation. "It's a central piece to truth and reconciliation ... If we're going to say truth and reconciliation, and the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples is about economic growth, then this is a foundational piece."

Sims said that B.C.'s government is committed to getting high-speed internet of 50 mbps per second download speed in place, though she did not give a date by which she hopes to achieve that.

"Our goal is to improve access—but we have a lot of work to be done. We have large parts of our province that lack the connectivity they need.

"It's very difficult because there are so many components at play, because of how quickly the federal money gets released, (and) who is putting in for it, (and) which one gets accepted."

The lion's share of the funding for the five B.C. projects stems from the federal government's Connect to Innovate program.

The program, which flows from the 2016 Liberal government budget, will invest $500 million by 2021 to bring high-speed internet to 300 rural and remote communities in Canada.

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