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No high-speed Internet access yet: Bell


The long-awaited, and much-anticipated, DSL Internet service will be coming to Rainy River District—but not just yet.

That was the message conveyed Saturday by Bell Canada Area Manager Bernie Blake to delegates attending the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual meeting in Stratton.

Blake said he understood area residents have been clamoring for high-speed Internet access for some time but at the moment, Bell Canada is not in a position to provide it.

“We have no approved plan at this time,” said Blake to a muted chorus of groans. “The problem has always been to use existing high-capacity technology in a rural situation, but at the moment, the costs simply don’t justify it.”

Blake said Bell already has invested more than $70 million in the northwest since 1999-2000—and has other priorities.

“We have a mandate from the CRTC to provide service in unserviced and underserviced areas,” he noted. “We have already invested $200 million in that area.”

Blake said some new technologies may solve the problem, but added it is too early to determine if they are cost-effective.

“The challenge for 2003 will be to find a Bell-like technology that is cheaper for us to deploy and makes economic sense in a rural situation,” he remarked.

Part of the problem, Blake explained, is DSL service has a limited range. Currently, the service only is available up to a distance of 4.5 km from each switch.

In an urban setting, the number of potential customers within that radius justifies a network of intersecting switches. In rural areas, it does not.

Blake added current technology requires the deployment of three separate platforms to provide DSL plus all the other services expected. And that is a sticking point, he said.

“We’re looking for the technology that will use one platform for five or six products,” he said. “Some companies are having success in that area and we are working with them now.

“There’s a lot happening, but it’s too soon to tell what the final product will be,” Blake added. “It might even be wireless.”

An additional potential obstacle is competition. Caren Naismith, Blake’s assistant, said once DSL technology was deployed, other services could come in and lease the resources and sell the product at a cheaper price to the consumer.

Another issue raised at Saturday’s meeting concerned the time displayed on some telephones in the district. All are set to Eastern Time and some people wanted to know if anything could be done about it.

Again, the answer was no.

“The timing display switch is located in Thunder Bay,” said Blake. “We knew we would have this problem [in the west], but to put an additional switch in Fort Frances would cost $11 million.”

Bell has gone to its suppliers to see if there’s a way to incorporate two time zones on one switch, but Blake said that is not yet possible.

He reminded delegates this particular switch—to the best of his knowledge—is the only one of its kind in North America.

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