Local internet services provider, the Central Coast Communications Society (CCCS), has signed a three-year financial agreement with Telus to upgrade their infrastructure, and increase the CCCS’ capacity. This will be the largest, most extensive project commitment undertaken by the CCCS to date.
The CCCS was established over a decade ago with the intention of bringing high-speed internet to the Valley. This was no easy task as the geography, remoteness of the community, and lack of funding all presented serious challenges to overcome. However, thanks to the dedication of the organization, we now have one of the most unique and forward-thinking remote and rural internet systems in the country, providing internet to Valley residents of Bella Coola, 4Mile, Hagensborg and Firvale.
The CCCS remains non-profit with a local board of six members, a network administrator/executive director, a three-person ground crew, a bookkeeper and two public relations positions.
Our internet network is tailored to our geography; the lack of connection to the main hydro grid means that the signal has to be beamed from Nimpo Lake over to Stupendous Mountain and back down to Stuie via a passive reflector. From here the signal is delivered to the communities via Telus’s fibre; CCCS then uses a combination of radios located in the valley and on remote mountain sites to deliver the internet service to its members.
The recent agreement signed with Telus will see the company upgrade its tower and radio equipment at Nimpo Lake, and as executive director James Hindley explains, this will enable the society to immediately receive more bandwidth to help with congestion and new members..
“Once the upgrade is complete we will have 1,500 mbps of bandwidth,” Hindley explained. “This will allow us to pursue more funding to construct a fibre-optic network, which is ultimately where we need to go to offer even higher internet speeds.”
The reality of the local situation is challenging. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has declared that all Canadian homes and businesses should have access to broadband Internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads by the end of 2021. At present Bella Coola residents have between five to 10 Mbps, but this is not something the CCCS has much power to change.
“Households in Vancouver are now getting 1,000 Mbps,” Hindley explained. “But this is easy for them to deliver because they have the population and the fibre-optic infrastructure to do it.”
The Connected Coast project, which was announced in 2018, was intended to address these issues by bringing new or improved high-speed internet accessibility to 154 rural and remote coastal communities, including 56 Indigenous communities representing 44 First Nations along the BC coast from north of Prince Rupert, to Haida Gwaii, south to Vancouver, and around Vancouver Island via over 3,400 kilometres of subsea fibre-optic cable.
The project is supposed to be delivered by Prince Rupert-based telecommunications company CityWest, in partnership with the Strathcona Regional District, and is projected to cost an estimated $45.4 million. Timelines have slowed considerably since the announcement however, with construction not estimated to start until 2021.
“Construction of the Connected Coast Project has not commenced. An extension to the completion date has been requested to our funders,” said Wolfang Parada, Senior Manager Engineering Services with LEED Green Associate. “The project is being procured and we anticipate the construction of the first phase starting summer 2021. Timelines will be revised once we have formal approval to request.”
Hindley says that while the Telus/CCCS upgrade is expensive, it’s the last one the system can accommodate, but the CCCS doesn’t have a choice.
“If there is a way we can improve services for our members we have to act on it,” Hindley said. “Demand is increasing all the time and we need to do our best to keep up; we don’t have time to wait for projects like Connected Coast.”
Meeting consumer demand is a constant challenge for the CCCS, and the impacts of COVID-19 have been especially telling. The society reduced its monthly charges by 50 percent for three months to help consumers. Usage skyrocketed and the system struggled to keep up with this on top of its usual demands.
“Everything is moving to internet-based and many companies offering these services don’t realize we don’t have the capacity that they are used to such as smart homes, video games, etc.,” Hindley explained.
“Our customers are using the same technologies as people in the cities, but we don’t have the same infrastructure to keep up.”
The upgrade is expected to be completed by spring 2021. For more information on the CCCS and what they offer, see www.belco.bc.ca