The Central Coast Communications Society, established over a decade ago, has overcome some significant challenges in its quest to bring the Bella Coola Valley online and up-to-date in today’s digital age.
Many of you reading this article will no doubt remember the CCCS’s humble beginnings; the screech of dial-up and the euphoria you no doubt felt when you received your high speed dish. This very newspaper was published using only dial-up for at least two (somewhat painful) years.
As with many enterprises trying to “make it” here in the Valley, the geographic features and changing weather of our beautiful community have presented a series of challenges to be overcome. However, at present we 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, Hagensborg and Firvale.
The CCCS remains non-profit with a local board of seven members, a Network Administrator/Executive Director, a two-person ground crew, a bookkeeper and two public relations positions.
“Our system is very unique due to the extreme environments we face, especially on Saloompt peak. Most other non-profits that we’ve encountered may also have remote sites, but they are accessible by ATV/snowmobile and can be visited easily. Communities they service may only need a couple of towers to service a condensed small town,” explained Network Administrator/Executive Director James Hindley. “We try to get the most durable alternative products available, but most cannot stand up to Saloompt’s extreme weather. We have been featured on post cards for a wind turbine in Japan and our installation on Saloompt has also been used as a benchmark for other companies use to market their products.”
As with many other organizations in our “do-it-yourself” Valley, the CCCS was built by volunteers who also hold full-time jobs in the community. Hindley says that their partnership with Telus, who many in the community believe is their competition, is actually a symbiotic relationship.
“We are fortunate that Telus provides us the bandwidth at wholesale prices so we are able to distribute it out to the communities. Some have the misconception that Telus is our competition, on the contrary, we partner and work very closely with Telus as they advance their fibre infrastructure we are able to secure more bandwidth and increase our plans accordingly,” said Hindley. “We have many businesses and local organizations that rely on the internet from a local provider as they can’t be without service for very long. By being local, we are able to address any issues our members may have in a timely fashion.”
Hindley says that the organization has definitely faced some stumbling blocks as they have worked to increase their service while at the same time dealing with the inevitable challenges of the Valley’s weather and geography. One of the most significant lessons learned was in regards to equipment, especially during the harsh winter months.
“We have made great improvements to the mountain sites to overcome the extreme conditions winter presents each year. We’ve learned that certain technologies just will not stand up to the harsh environments, such as wind turbines and even state of the art methanol generators,” Hindley explained. “Solar has been our most reliable source of remote power and we are continually expanding on our banks and upgrading to new panels. Batteries have also come a long way in the last 10 years and are routinely changed to ensure we have as much back up power as possible in the worst weather circumstances.”
Hindley says that the most pressing issue facing the organization now is keeping up with the demand as customers turn away from more “traditional” sources of media such as television and continue to rely heavily on the internet for their work and entertainment.
“The biggest challenge we face is keeping up to the growing demand for faster speeds to keep pace with all the new devices and offerings, such as Netflix, on demand shows with Shaw receivers, digital download moves and games, and many others. Also, the amount of data these services require grows more and more each day,” Hindley said. “The CCCS keeps upgrading its infrastructure and plans, to ensure we are doing all we can that it’s members are able to enjoy these services. We are not able to provide unlimited data to our members due to the amount of bandwidth that is available to us from Telus. We only increase the plans after we make sure our infrastructure can handle it and to avoid, if at all possible, slow down periods during busy hours.”
To this end, the CCCS recently added another remote site on Noohalk Mountain and another access point to better serve the Smith Subdivision and surrounding areas. The organization remains committed to consistent expansion and betterment of their services because, as Hindley explained, they feel it is a very important part of the Valley economy and be that make or break decision for many people when considering a move or a business start-up in the Valley.
“The CCCS will continue to build and upgrade its infrastructure to make sure we are using the fastest wireless equipment available. By increasing the access points we are able to increase our coverage areas with a greater service,” said Hindley. “Our members are what drives us to expand and bring more businesses to our community, and we want to ensure the Valley’s economy is increased by our service.”