The map showing the route of the fibre-optic cable with construction slated to begin this year.

Bella Coola to benefit from massive investment in coastal internet

A combined investment of $45.4 million will bring new and updated high-speed internet on the coast

A combined investment of $45.4 million will bring new and updated high-speed internet to communities from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and down the entire British Columbia coast, including Bella Coola.

After weeks of speculation, the government made the announcement in Vancouver on January 17. The funding is provided by the Government of Canada, in partnership with the Government of British Columbia, and will bring new or improved high-speed Internet to 154 rural and remote communities, enabling residents to get online. Of these 154 communities, 44 First Nations will benefit.

Dubbed the “Connected Coast,” the project includes includes new subsea fibre optic cable – a total of 3.5 million metres – provided by two separate entities in two sections: CityWest and Strathcona. The CityWest section will service from Prince Rupert over to Haida Gwaii and along the central coast to Bella Coola. The Strathcona section will service the entire circumference of Vancouver Island as well as the mainland communities to the east.

CityWest, a telecommunications company based in Prince Rupert, will be constructing the section of cable that will service Bella Coola. The project is set to start in early 2018 with more detailed studies and engagement. It is anticipated to take 3-4 years to complete with phased construction.

Besides delivering higher speeds, one of the major aims of the entire project is redundancy – something that is presently lacking in many coastal and remote communities, especially Bella Coola and Bella Bella.

The Central Coast Communications Society, which provides high-speed Internet for the Valley through the existing Telus infrastructure, has been pressing for these changes for a long time. Last summer’s wildfires only served to prove that point, especially when the flames very nearly cut off the entire communications system to the Valley. At present, there is no alternative, but this new project will change all of that.

“We’ve experienced several outages over the years due to an issue with the fiber line running all the way back to Williams Lake,When this line goes out, we lose all cell phone, most prefix landline dialing, and of course the internet,” said Executive Director, James Hindley. “This last summer was one of the scarier times when the services could have been disrupted by the wild fires burning the telephone poles and could have possibly taken out the communication station in Riske Creek. By providing another route for this traffic to flow, it will allow redundancy so we won’t have to worry about all communications being lost in the event of an emergency.”

On top of the redundancy aspect, there is the drive to keep up with the times. Current download speeds for the entire Bella Coola Valley are 400Mbps; Bella Bella is even slower at a total of 100Mbps. This translates to about 5Mbps per household in Bella Coola, and is way out of touch with the CRTC’s stated goal of 50Mbps per household by 2021.

“This project will greatly benefit the outer coast. By having city speeds and reliability in these communities, it will allow access to greater health services, online schooling, tourism operators, home businesses, and so much more,” said Hindley. “We look forward to the next couple of years as this project plays out. In the mean time, we are building infrastructure and developing plans to make sure we are ready to embrace the faster speeds and provide them to our members as soon it becomes available. Stay tuned for our work on these projects!”

Many are applauding the efforts of our local MLA Jennifer Rice, British Columbia Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Member of the Legislative Assembly for the North Coast, who was part of the Vancouver at Canada Place announcement alongside Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services.

“For too long, people living along B.C.’s coast and Haida Gwaii have been forced to live in technological isolation, which has affected their ability to communicate and do business in a digital world,” said Rice. “This important investment will give coastal communities and First Nations better access to key services like healthcare and education, bring new economic opportunities in tourism and other industries, and improve our ability to respond to emergencies throughout the region.”

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