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How slow internet can affect growing business

Next year is shaping up to be one of change for Atlantic Braids. The rope manufacturer is based in Chute-à-Blondeau. The company will be expanding from its current location on Concession 1 at the Grand Montee exit of the 417,  into a new location across the road. This will about double the size of its current operation.

But the expansion brought along a few hiccups caused by mediocre connectivity.

Connectivity challenges

A simple idea was to bring in a voice over IP phone system, which is cheaper and allows greater flexibility.

Doug Henderson, Atlantic Braids’ co-owner, says Bell originally told him the system would be available, but upon further inspection, they weren’t able to obtain the necessary hardware.

So Atlantic Braids has taken on the responsibility of bringing in an internal phone system with higher hardware costs and upkeep. In the long run, it could end up being cheaper, but Henderson says “only time will tell.”

Other connectivity setbacks have included bringing in cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning softwares, which could streamline information sharing across the company’s departments; more production means more machines, which also need updates and cut into bandwidth; and introducing a client portal for transactions, something that can’t be done right now.

“Nothing is stopping us from doing business,” says Henderson; but the company has had to create some work-arounds.

For example, Henderson lives in Vaudreuil. Anything that requires a lot of download or upload capability, he just ends up taking home.

And at work? “If we really need something fast, we’ll just switch over to our phones and go on the LTE network and it’s blazing fast in comparison,” he says.

Right now, Henderson says the company should be getting about five megabits per second (mbps) download speeds, but that only happens “on a good day.”

“If you do a speed test, you’re lucky if you hover around two.”

Atlantic Braids has also tried different internet service providers in the past, with even worse results.

New project and long-term investment

Slow rural internet speeds is nothing new, so what’s being done about it?

Two years ago, the Eastern Ontario Regional Network completed a major project to bring in wireless broadband to about 90 per cent of people and businesses in the region.

The EORN’s 2015-2024 Digital Strategy says, “Nationally, there is broad understanding that while Canadians are active internet users, our businesses lag behind other nations in embracing e-commerce and other online platforms.”

Earlier this year, the EORN proposed a $300-million project to the federal and provincial governments to close cellular network gaps in the region and improve mobile broadband internet.

The project comes after the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that 50 mbps download and 10 mbps upload speeds are a basic necessity for all Canadians and should be accessible to 90 per cent of the population by 2025.

“We don’t want Eastern Ontario to be in the last 10 per cent,” says Lisa Severson, communications officer for the EORN.

Severson adds that the proposed project would build on top of the infrastructure that was completed in 2015, and would also allow for future developments for higher internet speeds in the area.

Jim Pine is the co-lead on the project and CAO of Hastings County in the Kingston region. He says since the project was completed two years ago, there have been some private investments in the area as well. One notable example is Bell’s push for fibre in Hawkesbury.  

The municipal role

Severson says municipalities should see internet connectivity “as important as roads” when it comes to development. Certainly major centres such as Ottawa are already well serviced. 

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council approved a $200,000 reserve in the 2018 budget specifically in preparation for the EORN’s proposed project.

“The counties’ total contribution will be greater than that, but the final numbers for each municipality’s contribution are still being finalized,” said Justin Bromberg, communications coordinator for the UCPR, in an email.

Pine says the EORN should be getting an answer on the project in the first half of 2018. If approved, construction would likely start the following year.

For Doug Henderson and Atlantic Braids, slow internet won’t be enough to slow down business.

“Can we survive without it? Yeah,” says Henderson. “But would it be a whole lot easier with it? It would be fantastic.”