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Nova Scotian farmers tell of struggles with cell service and internet at Truro federation meeting

Farmer Rebecca O’Connell and her uncle Tim Fisher struggle with poor to non-existent internet and cell coverage at their farm near Upper Stewiacke. They run the Truro Agromart Ltd. and were at the Nov. 29-30 Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s annual general meeting in Truro, together with dozens of other farmers from across the province.
Farmer Rebecca O’Connell and her uncle Tim Fisher struggle with poor to non-existent internet and cell coverage at their farm near Upper Stewiacke. They run the Truro Agromart Ltd. and were at the Nov. 29-30 Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s annual general meeting in Truro, together with dozens of other farmers from across the province. - Fram Dinshaw

Farmers struggle with substandard cell and internet service

TRURO, N.S. – Peter Morine faces daily torment.

His internet speed is painfully slow and he often can’t even send a simple text message. But the situation is especially galling for the farmer from Bridgewater.

“For me, it’s almost unbelievable, because I have a cellphone tower on my land. If I was a good baseball player I could almost hit it – and we are still struggling with internet speed,” said Morine.

He complained that the cellphone tower was “loaded,” with thousands of customers, meaning he can’t rely on it for adequate service, despite it being a stone’s throw away. That often means no calls or emails to his colleagues and suppliers.

Morine was in Truro for the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s AGM last week, where other farmers warned that poor internet service is severely hampering their ability to conduct business.

For farmer Tim Fisher near Upper Stewiacke, texting his employees is also impossible, never mind an email or video-conference call using a service like Skype.

For that, Fisher must drive about 30 km into Brookfield from his farm, which he runs with his family and employees, as well as the Truro Agromart Ltd. store in Upper Onslow.

Back at the farm, phone calls can only be made via landline at lunchtime.

But Truro Agromart’s owners also need cell and internet service to review their account books, contact their farm nutritionist or speak with suppliers. Their business operations include crops, home lawn and garden products, as well as farming services such as nutrient management planning, soil sampling and field mapping, among others.

“It makes me feel terrible. I can’t run my business,” said Fisher. “I can’t communicate with my employees, because that’s how young people communicate, you text back and forth.”

If anything, his cell and internet service has gotten worse over the last few years, despite the provincial government’s promises of better infrastructure in rural Nova Scotia.

His niece, Rebecca O’Connell, said their farm was offered only the lowest internet speed available. She wanted the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture to collectively advocate for farmers, like her, who are lacking vital internet coverage.

“Farming is a business, so just like any other small or large business the internet is a huge part of running it,” said O’Connell.

It was a point echoed by MLA Larry Harrison, who represents Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley for the Progressive Conservatives and personally knows farmers in his region who struggle without proper internet services.

“There are a lot of dead zones throughout the province. There have been times when I’ve been on the phone and it’s gone dead,” said Harrison. “It always seems like the rural areas are the last to get what they really, really need.”

One possible solution to Nova Scotia’s internet woes may be found in rural Ontario. There, the South Western Integrated Fibre Technology network is funding the construction of fibre-optic broadband infrastructure after it received $180 million from both the Ontario and federal governments in 2016.

All told, $300 million is being spent to connect people in small towns and rural areas in southern Ontario and construction work is expected to begin next year.

Harrison said Nova Scotia should research how other provinces solved their internet problems, as fibre-optic networks may yet be a “worthy investment.”

For now, Harrison will keep pushing for better rural internet and cell coverage for his constituents in the provincial legislature.

“We’ve mentioned it and we’ve mentioned it and we’ve mentioned it,” he said.

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