Manitoba takes action to improve Internet and cell service in rural and remote communities

WINNIPEG – The Government of Manitoba is working to improve cellular broadband service in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Premier Brian Pallister and Central Services Minister Reg Helwer announced at a press conference Thursday that the province has signed a memorandum of understanding with Xplornet Communications Inc. The partnership will help connect 125,000 unserved or underserved residents to high speed internet services as soon as this drops.

“This pandemic has reinforced the fact that the virtual reality that many of us now take for granted remains a virtual dream for far too many of our fellow Manitobans,” Pallister said, noting that one person’s future success should not be expected. depend on where she lives in the province. .

The province noted that its agreement with Xplornet will provide broadband services to approximately 30 First Nations and 270 rural and northern communities. It will also provide 350 communities with cell phone access.

“Too many Manitobans, more than in any other part of the country, are deprived of the possibility of reliable Internet and cellular service, especially our rural and northern communities, especially our aboriginal communities,” said the Premier.

“We will only move forward as a province when we advance our knowledge infrastructure that will allow everyone to participate in that progress.”

Through Manitoba Hydro, the province has thousands of kilometers of fiber optic cables across the province. However, most of the network is excess and unused capacity.

“It was paid for by Manitobans, but it went unused with no immediate plans for future use,” Helwer said.

Now, thanks to the agreement with Xplornet, the province will use this excess capacity.

The province, Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Hydro Telecom are working to finalize the contract in the coming weeks.

Adrien Sala, NDP spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro, said broadband access is “extremely important”, especially now during the pandemic when so much is being done virtually.

However, he said the province’s announcement was in fact about transferring “public sector-owned cable and fiber-optic infrastructure from public to private hands.”

“It’s not something to celebrate,” said Sala.

He said that until now, Manitoba Hydro Telecom, a public subsidiary of Hydro, has been managing that cable and fiber-optic infrastructure.

“In all respects, they have done an incredible job expanding access to broadband services across the province and keeping costs low for Manitobans,” Sala.

He said transferring control to a private company will have “major” implications, including increased costs for Manitoba broadband customers.

Sala said another potential impact is that broadband is less likely to be extended to isolated and northern communities, as a private company will have more incentive to expand into more populated parts of the province. .

He said giving the fiber optic cable to a private company could also potentially exclude a number of Manitoba-based ISPs.

“There are a lot of questions to ask here about the impact of this announcement on the Manitoba businesses that power our local economy,” said Sala.

He said the way forward is to empower Manitoba Hydro Telecom to continue doing its job in a way that keeps costs down.

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