View From the Legislature

Expanding Internet Services

  • Kelvin Goertzen, Author
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly, Steinbach

For many Manitobans, the past couple of decades have been about moving from getting internet service to getting faster and faster service with a range of greater options. In fact, the speed at which this technology is changing and the way in which it is changing our lives would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. And yet, there is also another large segment of the Manitoba population who have experienced something quite different. Because they have lived in rural or remote areas where the expansion of internet and cellular service has been slow due largely to a smaller population base, the challenge has been simply getting adequate service.

Last week, the Manitoba government took a significant step toward addressing this issue. For many years residents of some rural and remote areas have heard that the reason they have been unable to get additional internet service is because it was not economically viable for companies to provide broadband service through the installation of fibre-optic cable in remote areas. However, what many Manitobans may not have known is that there has been significant unused fibre-optic cable in many of these areas for years.

One source has been local school division’s that have had fibre-optic cable connecting their individual schools throughout their region. As is often the case, there is much more fibre-optic cable available than is needed by an individual user or entity, resulting in “dark fibre” or unused fibre. In the past several years some school divisions have partnered with local internet providers to allow them to use this otherwise unused fibre-optic cable that runs to their schools to provide service to homes in those communities. This has been a win-win partnership in that it benefits the community and can provide additional resources for the Division depending on the nature of the agreement.

What Manitoban’s may not have known is that a similar situation exists with Manitoba Hydro. Hydro has thousands of kilometres of fibre-optic cable that runs throughout Manitoba connecting its hydroelectric facilities so that they can communicate data between them. But like most fibre-optic networks, only a small fraction of this resource is being used.

The Manitoba government issued a tender to get bids for the use of this unused Hydro resource to help connect Manitobans to broadband service. Last week it was announced that Xplornet Communications had won the bid and as a result more than 125,000 unserved or underserved residences will be receiving high-speed internet and cellular services. Thousands of these homes will be in southeast Manitoba.

This announcement will, beginning this fall, allow Manitobans to benefit from a resource that they own through Manitoba Hydro and that till now, has been largely left unused, benefiting no one. It is an example of the type of partnership that can be created to benefit all involved.

This past year we all have experienced the importance of reliable internet service, weather for school, working from home or simply for entertainment. This announcement is a significant step to helping many Manitobans catch up in the never-ending technology race.