In Stewart, British Columbia, there is no cell phone service, and aside from satellite, the town had just one option for anything resembling modern Internet access.
Unfortunately, that broadband provider has just shut down, leaving the remote Canadian district of about 500 residents with severely limited access to the Internet. Onewayout.net, a wireless home Internet provider that started in 1995, discontinued service at the end of November.
“The infrastructure required to deliver Internet and possibly cell service is extremely expensive—to do it effectively, Stewart needs a tower that can serve the entire community,” Onewayout, a nonprofit organization, said on its website.
It may take at least a few weeks to set up a replacement for Onewayout, which was delivering service from a tower to residents’ homes. “Telus and an Internet service provider from Terrace will be stepping in to reconnect Stewart, but that connection won’t be online for at least four to eight weeks,” the CBC reported yesterday.
Various estimates have been reported. “B.C.’s Technology Ministry said a new Internet service provider has a plan to re-connect the town by the end of the week,” according to The Canadian Press news agency. “But the mayor said it could take much longer and she’s hoping the town will be back online before Christmas.”
We called the Stewart mayor’s office today and spoke with Sharon Burke, an accounting clerk. Burke told Ars that cellular companies haven’t installed any towers in the district, leaving residents without cell phone coverage. Onewayout wasn’t the only option for home Internet, though, as some residents use satellite service.
The mayor’s office is still online via satellite, and Burke said she still has satellite Internet at home. Burke is happy with the service, except for the data caps, which caused her to turn off her computer’s automatic update functionality, she said. Residents who relied on Onewayout may be able to get online via satellite, as Galaxy Broadband is still accepting new customers, she said. There’s also dial-up Internet.
The district is in a tough position, though. “It’s the same as going from the car to the horse. We should be going forward, not backward,” Stewart Mayor Galina Durant said, The Canadian Press reported. “To stay without Internet—it’s like you cut a line of life.”
The Canadian Press article further described the Internet shutdown’s impact:
Their public library’s catalogue is down, some stores are having difficulty completing Internet-based transactions and a primary entertainment source has also vanished from a community with no movie theatre.
Durant is taking an online course in local government management but can’t access her curriculum.
Winter travellers who rely on the province’s DriveBC website for road conditions can’t go online, either.
Mike Ginka, who runs the town’s general store, said people already feel shut in during the winter, so the timing of the Internet shutdown couldn’t be worse. He said it’s typical for small communities to lack access to services and fears his business could now suffer even more.
“This is just the tip of it, being our Internet,” Ginka said. “The world today forces you to have it, to use it. And when you don’t have it, we’ve kind of been left out in the cold again.”
Lack of cellphone coverage has been a concern for years. Durant wrote to the British Columbia government in January 2013, saying that power outages, combined with the cell coverage gap, could leave residents “cut off from the outside world” during emergencies.
Fiber and microwave radio upgrades were already in the works for Stewart before Onewayout shut down. Telus told The Canadian Press that it will expedite the project but that the fiber extension to add bandwidth could take eight to 12 weeks. Fixing the bandwidth shortage is a necessary first step toward getting cellular service, according to the mayor’s blog.