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Rural British Columbians pay more for worse internet, cell phone service: report

Nearly 30 per cent of provincial highways also lack cell coverage
A provincial government report finds different levels of internet cell service for urban and rural regions of BC with rural residents paying more for worse services. (Black Press Media file photo)

British Columbians who want to surf the internet and talk on their cellphones in rural parts of the province pay more for worse service than those who live in urban areas.

That’s the conclusion emerging from a government report assessing internet and cellular service across B.C.

In the review, Ministry of Citizens’ Services praises British Columbia as a “leader compared to other provinces” for access to internet speeds of 50/10 Mbps (Megabits per second), 200+ Mbps and 1 Gigabit. But this leadership depends on location.

According to the report, 95 per cent of households in British Columbia have access to 50/10 Mbps service – five per cent above the Canadian average.

While service is nearly universal in urban areas, many rural areas and First Nations reserves remain under-served, at 63 per cent.

The report also finds B.C. above the Canadian average for access to internet services at higher speeds with 93 per cent of British Columbians having access to internet speeds of 200 Mbps or higher and 92 per cent with access to speeds of 1 Gbps.

But regional differences exist.

Fifty-nine per cent of households in rural areas have access to high-speed internet compared to 99 per cent in urban regions.

Rural British Columbians also pay more for internet service: The average 50/10 Mbps internet plan costs $75 per month. While that’s $10 less than the Canadian average, it is substantially higher than the $40-per-month average for those in major cities.

Lower populations and connectivity infrastructure are the root causes, the report notes.

Cell-service also differs across regions. While 94 per cent of B.C’s urban population enjoys access to 5G, that dips to slighly more than half of those living rural.

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The report pegs B.C. behind the Canadian average for coverage along sections of major highways. Reasons include challenging terrain, lack of available power sources and what the reports called the “remoteness of highways without populations supporting a business case to expand cellular services.”

Of the 15,000 kilometres of primary and secondary highways in the province, about 4,200 kilometres — or 28 per cent — lack cellular service coverage. Of that figure, 3,100 kilometres — or 37 per cent — also lack available power necessary for cell towers.

Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare noted in the report that government has made improvements to internet and cell service a priority.

“We know connectivity is a key driver for the growth and economic development of our communities and the continued success of our province,” she said. “Connectivity is also vital for British Columbians to be able to learn and work from anywhere, as the province adapts to meeting the job demands of the future.”


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