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Rural Internet service less than promised, North Shore residents say

Unsatisfied Seaside Communications customers are taking their business elsewhere.
Unsatisfied Seaside Communications customers are taking their business elsewhere. - Truro Daily News

WARWICK MOUNTAIN, N.S. – Complaints about prolonged internet issues with Seaside Communications is prompting some unsatisfied customers in the Tatamagouche area to take their business elsewhere.

“I spoke to 26 people in a two-day period,” said Warwick Mountain resident Miriam Cleough. “Of those 26 people, 25 complained about intermittent or no service from four o’clock on. Now, I’m not talking streaming, I’m talking sending emails.”

Cleough said she has had internet service through Seaside since it became available in her area in 2013. Initially, she was pleased with the service and recommended it to numerous other people including her parents.

“When I hooked up with Seaside I couldn’t say enough positive,” she said.

In July 2015 Industry Canada announced it was providing approximately $6 million for Seaside Wireless to bring high-speed internet to 14,000 homes in Nova Scotia. At that time, company spokesman Parker Donham stated in the Truro Daily News that the upgrades to the system would provide customers higher speeds and fewer outages.

In late February 2016, ACOA announced it was providing a $2 million loan to Seaside to assist with equipment upgrades to provide faster download speeds to about 15,000 customers over the next three years to people living in rural Northeastern Nova Scotia.

However, Cleough said her service actually decreased after the additional customers were brought online.

Cleough said she has been calling the company regularly to complain about the service but has yet to receive any satisfaction.

“They blamed it on my trees, they blamed it on the wireless dog fence that I had on, so I turned that off,” she said. Other times her outages have been blamed on the weather.

Cleough said she became so frustrated that she demanded a lower monthly fee, agreeing to only pay for the service on the days it was available.

But “the last straw” came last week, she said, when the company refused to grant a service call.

“My frustrations are done because I’m finished with them,” Cleough said, adding she has cancelled her Seaside subscription and has gone to a competing service provider.

“It’s working fantastic,” she said, of the new service. “No problems whatsoever.”

Mindy MacDonald, who lives on Lake Road near Tatamagouche, provided similar complaints, while adding she too was pleased with the service when she subscribed about five years ago.

But since last June, she said, she has not been able to access her internet service during the evening hours.

“I do not get internet. And they keep telling me I do but we can’t load anything that we want.”

MacDonald said her frustrations are such that she too is looking for another service provider.

Likewise for Alice MacNeil of Tatamagouche.

“I’m shopping around because I’ve had it. In the evenings I can’t even open Google or open an email, it’s terrible. I’m paying for a service that I can’t even use,” MacNeil said

“You get a different story every time you call, which is big problem,” she said. “And the funny part is, back two years ago when I moved in, my service was a lot better than what it is now. So to tell me it’s the landscape or something in between, that’s BS because I was getting better service when I signed up with that provider.”

Lake Road resident Tanya Nicholson said she has started sending only partial monthly payments as a way of protesting her dissatisfaction with Seaside.

“The internet starting going off at night at the end of June,” she said. “At first it was around 9 p.m. and it would come back at 11 p.m. This continued all summer and has steadily gotten worse. Now it can start going off as early as 3 p.m. I have had to use my phone's data to access the internet as much or more than I use Seaside.”

Like the others, Nicholson said her service started getting worse after Seaside started adding more customers to its base.

“It's funny how this started shortly after receiving a lot of money to make service better,” she said.

Basic service

After checking the accounts of Cleough, MacDonald and MacNeil, Donham said they all subscribe to the company’s basic level of service, which supports speeds up to 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 0.5 Mbps upload over the 900 Mhz radio frequency band.

“This is the standard established by Government of Nova Scotia for the Broadband for Rural Nova Scotia (BRNS) when that project was announced in 2007. It's the same speed supported by a telephone-based DSL modem,” he said, in an emailed response.

At that time, he said, YouTube was in its infancy and Netflix did not begin streaming video in Canada until 2010. Meanwhile, demand for bandwidth has increased exponentially since then, and keeps increasing with each passing year.

“As a result, Seaside now offers two higher tiers of service (5.0 and 10 Mbps in the 3.5 Ghz frequency band) in most of our coverage area,” Donham said. “The higher tiers use an entirely different software-based radio technology similar to that used by LTE cellphones. This added capacity required a series of multimillion-dollar investments by Seaside, some of which were cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments. In essence, we are now running two parallel networks; one using the latest LTE technology and a legacy service using 900 Mhz radios.”

By today's standards, he added, 1.5 Mbps is a very basic service. “We consider it suitable for email and basic web browsing. In ideal conditions, with everything working perfectly, it may be possible to stream video at low resolution, but 1.5 Mbps is not designed for streaming, and customers may experience buffering. Regular users of Netflix and similar services should really choose one of our higher tiers.”

Cleough and the others said they haven’t been able to use their service for streaming purposes, except in rare situations in the early morning or very late at night. And each one said that in any of the conversations they had with Seaside representatives, they were never informed of or offered the opportunity to upgrade to a higher tier of service.

“Not once,” Cleough said, in echoing the sentiment of the others. “Because I would have jumped at it. I would have paid Seaside a hundred dollars a month if I could have reliable internet.”

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