So close and yet so far

Some communities question why broadband when a digital line passes by

Barbara Dean-Simmons
Published on February 4, 2016

It’s a peculiar situation for Kevin Keats.

Keats lives in Benton, a community that sits on the Trans-Canada Highway about 15 km West of Gander.

In this community that’s so close to a main centre and a major highway, high speed Internet service does not exist.

Related stories

Icenet president says they will meet deadlines

Getting connected

CRTC reviewing Internet services

Icenet still working on installation of broadband Internet

Instead Keats has to use a turbo hub - a device that uses cellular signals - to connect to the Internet.

Many of his neighbours are using similar devices, or are still on dial-up Internet.

Benton is one of the communities that’s been earmarked for broadband service, under a contract the province signed with the Ottawa-based Icenet Wireless company in 2014.

What boggles Keats, however, is why Benton would need to rely on broadband when a fibre op line for Internet passes right through his community.

In an interview at his home recently, Keats says it makes absolutely no sense to him why the residents of Benton, which is not a remote community, would have to rely on a wirelesse signal for Internet.

“The main fibre op line that was installed to carry Internet service to major towns in this province, runs right through here. In fact, that’s the pole right over there,” he says, gesturing to a utility pole just a few hundred feet across the road from his front door.

“Yet, no one can give me a good reason why we can’t tap into that,” he says. “I could see it (broadband) being our only option if we were remote, if I was living in the back country. But we’re right alongside the Trans-Canada Highway, and just 15 minutes from a major town (Gander).”

A similar situation exists in several of the communities that were included on the list for broadband when the province signed the contract with Icenet Wireless.

Several years ago the province engaged another Internet service provider - Eastlink - to connect rural schools to high speed Internet.

To provide that service to schools, Eastlink had to install fibre - essentially a hard-wire - line in several areas.

The fibre line they installed passed by many small communities. In some cases communities that were on the route that led to the school were also connected to the fibre line, enabling households to tap into the Eastlink system and allowing them to access Eastlink phone/television and Internet services.

However, some were left out - creating a patchwork of connected and unconnected communities in the same region.

On Random Island, for instance, the Eastlink digital line that connects Random Island Academy near Hickman’s Harbour to high speed Internet, also connects residents of Elliott’s Cove, Weybridge and Lady Cove to high speed. However, the communities of Random Heights and Robinson’s Bight - situated along the same route - were left out of the equation, even though the fibre line for Internet runs right through those places.

Robinson’s Bight is on the list for service via Icenet. Random Heights is not.

And in the community of Hickman’s Harbour, where Eastlink provides high speed Internet to most households, there is a ‘dead zone’ area of several householdes where Eastlink’s high-speed service is not available.

That creates a very peculiar situation for one family who shares the same property.



When Katie Hansford built her new home just last year on a plot of land only a few hundred feet behind her mother’s house in Hickman’s Harbour, she assumed she would be able to get high speed Internet from Eastlink.

Her mother has been able to tap into the high speed/telephone and television package from Eastlink for the past couple of years.

However, when Hansford went looking to hook up to Eastlink, she says she was told she was too far from the main road.

Her only option was to install a satellite Internet system on her property - a system that costs more and has limits on data usage.

Icenet says they may be able to service the ‘dead zone” area of Hickman’s Harbour from a satellite tower from Robinson’s Bight.

Hansford says she’s not optimistic, but might consider that option if it becomes available.

However, she says it’s frustrating to have to settle for satellite or broadband Internet, and not have the option of being able to ‘bundle’ her internet/phone and telephone service when she’s just a few hundred feet away from a house that does have that option.

Back in Benton, Kevin Keats says he doesn’t think he or his neighbours should have to settle for less than that.

He says they should be able to access the fibre op line, and be able to bundle TV/telephone and Internet services from known companies, the same way many others can.

“We’re paying almost $400 a month, most of us here, to have television, telephone and Internet (via turbo hub or residential satellite dishes),” he says, adding many of his friends have the same bill, or higher.

“A lot of people here don’t have Internet (and) there are people from Benton who go to Gander and sit in a parking lot to download from a free wifi signal,” he said.

“I don’t know why we have to be at such a disadvantage when we have a main (Internet) line going through here.”

That’s why he’s seriously considering a petition to keep Icenet broadband out of Benton.

He says if his fellow residents show their support, he will lobby the province to take Benton off the list for broadband and, instead, arrange for that community to tap into the fibre op line that runs right through it.

As far as he is concerned, someone in government did not do due diligence when they were assessing which communities had no choice but to rely on broadband.

“Who sat down to plan this, that’s what I’d like to know,” he said, “because it’s not logical to me.”

Twitter: @packetsimmons