Internet service in the West Kootenay is improving thanks to provincial government grants. File photo

Internet service in the West Kootenay is improving thanks to provincial government grants. File photo

COVID-19 support program brings faster internet to rural communities

The province has provided grants to local internet providers

By John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Residents of the West Kootenay are enjoying faster internet service these days thanks to support from the province to improve their connectivity.

Business and non-profit internet service providers in the Slocan and Arrow Lakes Valleys received money from the Connecting British Columbia program in April, as part of the province’s COVID-19 response.

The providers were able to apply for grants of up to 90 per cent of their system improvement costs, to a total of $50,000.

Columbia Wireless, based out of Nelson, received about $35,500 from the program. “We decided to upgrade some key main network transport points, which allowed us to bring faster packages and also introduce our very first unlimited data package with up to 30Mbps transfer speeds to the whole existing network coverage area,” says Ben Leslie, CEO.

In Burton, the local community Internet Society got $33,000; Edgewood Community Internet received $42,800; and the Trout Lake Internet Society about $9,800, says the Northern Development Initiative Trust, the organization responsible for administering the Connecting British Columbia Program.

Like Leslie’s company, the other ISPs used the money for equipment upgrades to electronics, antennas and other equipment that directly supports and enhances capacity, performance or the range of the network.

The province says its COVID-19 response intake was a success, with 47 rapid network upgrade projects worth $1.2 million, helping 9,300 households receive better internet. The work was completed by the end of June.

In 2019, the B.C. government launched a $50-million expansion of the Connecting British Columbia program, the largest investment in the program’s history. The program provides grant funding to internet service providers to build vital connectivity infrastructure, including projects to bring fibre to entire regions or make final connections to homes and businesses.

And it seems like users are putting the better service to good use.

“We are receiving many positive responses especially from people working from home,” says Leslie. “Families with students are benefiting from the increased speeds for taking online classes and researching at home for homework assignments.

“Of course the gamers and movie buffs are loving it too, being able to download very large games, videos and playing online with faster and more reliable connections.”