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Frustration for businesses in region with internet, cell phone service

Cutline: Brenda Rose doesn’t have a strong enough internet service to continue tutoring English as a second language, from her Cape George home. Richard MacKenzie
Cutline: Brenda Rose doesn’t have a strong enough internet service to continue tutoring English as a second language, from her Cape George home. Richard MacKenzie - Richard MacKenzie

Running a successful business in rural parts of Nova Scotia certainly has its unique challenges. Amongst the biggest, and growing daily as people become more and more dependent on communication technology like smartphones, are problems around internet and cell phone service.

“We don’t have any; your cell phone will not ring here, at Liscomb Lodge, at all,” general manager Karen Wenaus said, using a matter-of-fact tone purposely.

“Wi-Fi, it’s not too bad and texting, I joke that it’s like a fast email,” she added.

Wenaus said guests at the lodge will drive five minutes up, or down, the road to get service and that if it’s just a two-minute call to let a loved one know they’ve arrived, “then we bite the bullet and say, ‘here, use this house phone.’”

“Of course, that two-minute call, we pay for that every time. And, we still have a pay phone here or they can use it from their room and, of course, there will be room charges on a phone [call]. When is the last time you paid for room charges having to use the phone? If you’re on the phone for a couple of minutes, it’s probably going to cost three or four dollars.”

It’s a significant effect on business Wenaus points out, especially when it comes to attracting corporate bookings from professions such as real estate, pharmaceutical and medical.

“Technically, they can’t come here; if they need to be connected, that’s not going to happen for them here,” she said.

The result is the majority of their business being recreational and social and even that comes with the problem as people forget, or don’t really take it in, when they’re told, specifically, there is no cell phone service at the lodge.

“When you’re making your reservation, one of the last things we say to you before we say ‘can we help you with anything else’ is, we say, ‘and just so you’re aware, your cell will not work here, will not ring here, but we do have Wi-Fi service,’” Wenaus said.

“And, once again, it probably happens once a week, somebody comes up and says, ‘I didn’t know you don’t have cell service.’ In the end, if you’re checking in somewhere and if you’re disappointed right off the get-go, then I’m fighting the uphill battle to make sure you’re having a great time at Liscomb Lodge, right from the start.”

Wenaus has been making the case for service while attending various municipal and tourism meetings in the area.

“For five years or more; if we don’t get the cell service working properly on the Eastern Shore, the streets are going to roll up because, every year that goes by, that younger person, they no longer know what it is to be without a phone,” she said, reciting a warning she would be happy to not have to use ever again.

“That 15-year-old who is now the 20-year-old, who would be booking, could say, ‘let’s go to Liscomb Lodge’ and canoe, kayak, hike or whatever, and a friend might say back, ‘we can’t go there because my cell doesn’t work.’

“Cell service is vital; this is not a luxury anymore,” she added.

“This is an everyday service that we should be having and what blows my mind away is that five minutes on either side of us, we have cell service, yet Liscomb Lodge, which is the second largest employer on the Eastern Shore, the largest hotel on the Eastern Shore, does not have cell service.”


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Home-based challenges

Not too far from Liscomb, still in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, is Leigh McFarlane and her home-based business The Soap Company of Nova Scotia.

McFarlane said she was better off when based in nearby Sherbrooke because she had access to a package for her phone and internet, but the short move to Port Hilford is costing her money.

“I had a 1-800 number for my clients to call me all wrapped into one little bundle, but when I moved back out to Port Hilford, basically, my costs went up $1,200 a year,” she said, noting she had the choice of a satellite or antenna services and went with satellite feeling it’s more reliable.

“But it’s capped, so that’s what I’m dealing with right now,” she said.

“We maxed it out last month, 50 gigabytes and there is nothing higher than that to go with. It’s not like we’re out here in the country wanting to watch Netflix all the time; it’s literally about being able to communicate. I’m sitting here, this whole time I’ve been talking to you, I know my internet has maxed out. The new month kicks in tomorrow so I’ll be back up to speed again but, basically, it’s like slow dial up right now.”

And her cell phone service is spotty, reliable only in certain parts of her house.

“So it’s challenging; it’s very challenging from a communications perspective when everything is being done online,” McFarlane said.

“And I recognize I choose to live here, I get that, it’s a personal responsibility thing. I get to live in this beautiful place but the costs, in certain ways, are higher. So it does make it challenging and what it comes down to is, it impacts my ability to put money towards job creation … that is the real nuts and bolts of it.

“I have an online store. I need to be able to get at it, reliably and quickly, in order for it to be effective and not take a whole lot of extra time, which is money.”

Unable to continue

In another part of the region, Cape George resident Brenda Rose was hoping to continue her English as a second language tutoring, online.

“As soon as I tried to tutor online, I was using Skype and Facetime and I have a really great computer, it’s state of the art, it became extremely difficult because there was a lot of buffering, hesitation and, out-and-out, drop-out; I would just lose the connection completely,” Rose said.

“When you’re talking about language, people have to hear you clearly so that they can repeat the words and pick up your inflection and tone, and we couldn’t do it. So I had to give up tutoring.”

She decided to try again after making a connection with a Chinese language school.

“I signed up with them, the money wasn’t particularly good but I didn’t care because I could work from my home, and it was exactly the same problem,” she said.

“After three lessons, the language school reached out to me and said that my words were so chopped up through buffering that the young people were not getting what they were supposed to be getting, so that dried up my last source of income.

“That really was an absolute bummer. That’s when I wrote to Mary [MacLellan, Antigonish County councillor] in frustration and told her that had I known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have moved to Nova Scotia.”

Rose said she has spoken to others around her experiencing similar frustration and echoed Wenaus’ annoyance in the fact high speed internet is only five minutes away from her location.

“I could be doing a whole lot more with and for the community and province, if I was able to do what I’m trained to do; my specialty is second language education,” she said. “I would be the perfect person to conduct online tutoring, except, I can’t do it.”

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