The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need for better internet access for residents of a rural section of the Halifax Regional Municipality.
It’s been almost impossible for residents of the Musquodoboit Valley to work from home and for their kids to do their schooling online.
“It’s like trying to suck concrete through a straw,” said Rob Bowers, a father of four who lives in the community of Cooks Brook and is fed up with the painfully slow internet in his area. “You do everything that you can to make it work and it just doesn’t.”
Bowers is not alone with his complaints of the lagging internet capabilities. He said downloads and uploads can take forever, if they work at all. All of his kids struggled to get their online school work completed this spring.
“My oldest daughter did a lot of talking to her friends to figure out what was done in videos or what was said in virtual classrooms that she couldn’t attend,” said Bowers.
The three months since COVID-19 first made its way to Nova Scotia have made the people of the Musquodoboit Valley feel extremely isolated.
“I’ve had to get my kids to shut off their devices so I can do a Zoom call, and I’ve had to drive to Elmsdale and sit in the Tim Hortons parking lot where the service is better so I can participate in group Zoom calls,” said Karen Dean, a life coach who lives in Middle Musquodoboit, about 30 kilometres east of the community of Elmsdale.
“It’s been very, very hard with COVID and everybody being home and being online all at the same time, trying to get things done.”
In February, the Nova Scotia government announced several communities would get internet upgrades as part of a $193-million fund aimed at making high-speed internet accessible to 95 per cent of Nova Scotians within five years.
The Musquodoboit Valley wasn’t on that list, but could be in the next round. The Crown corporation Develop Nova Scotia, which manages the initiative, said there’s been another call for projects and new ones could be announced this summer.
“That call just closed last week and we are now in the process of evaluating those bids,” said spokesperson Deborah Page.
At Snowy River Farms in Cooks Brook, Amy Hill has struggled to keep her farm business going because her internet service has not been able to meet her needs.
When restaurants were closed down, it meant she had to create an online store to sell products, including vegetables, eggs, poultry and pork.
“Trying to send out emails, trying to get into some of my secure websites, wasn’t working well,” said Hill. “I kept getting kicked out because we didn’t have strong enough internet.”
Residents say what they pay for internet service is outrageous, given it works so slowly.
“We pay $150 a month for our internet, and I also keep maxing out and going over my phone data limit every month because I have to use my phone in order to run my Facebook and Instagram pages for the business,” said Hill.
In Elderbank, Cheryl Geddes has been doing the bookkeeping for her husband’s small business from home while her kids, including a daughter who attends Dalhousie University in Halifax, did their schooling online.
“We had to take turns because we all couldn’t be on the internet at once because the speed is so slow,” said Geddes. “I had to send my daughter elsewhere where there was high-speed internet to write her exams for fear of her being booted out of her exam and not finishing it.”
With Dalhousie already committing to online learning in the fall, Geddes said they may have to move their daughter out of the Musquodoboit Valley so she can continue going to the university.
“We really don’t want to do that,” said Geddes. “We’d like her to be comfortable enough here at home to do her school work, but that may not be an option for us.”
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