Aliant Boondoggle

Back in 2008, Aliant, the local brand of the Bell Canada telephone company, did a deal with the Province of Prince Edward Island: Aliant got to renew its communications contract with the province and in return agreed to “extend broadband services to every community in Prince Edward Island.”

In December of 2009 Aliant announced “Mission Accomplished” and published a press release titled, in part, “PEI broadband infrastructure build complete.” But over the year somehow “every community in Prince Edward Island” in the province’s original announcement had morphed into “virtually all areas of the Island” in Aliant’s.

And then, in late December, came the fine print that fleshed out the difference between “every” and “virtually all:” rather than actually installing wired broadband to every home in the Province, Aliant was opting out of the difficult bits and using its wireless cellular network-based Internet service as a sop to customers where they didn’t want to extend the wired network.

There’s been a lot of media coverage about this, culminating in a public meeting in the eastern part of the province last night where Aliant made some pricing and data cap adjustments to the wireless service to try and distract the wrath of the under-served.

What’s been largely missing in the media coverage and related discussion of this issue, however, is that Aliant is not living up to the spirit of their original agreement. 

Yes, wireless Internet is “high speed” in the sense that it’s faster than dial-up.

But it’s not “broadband infrastructure.”

If it was, then Aliant wouldn’t have wasted all that money installing DSL for everyone and would have just mailed out “turbo sticks” – its wireless access dongle – to all Islanders.

Broadband infrastructure Island-wide means that I should be able to run an Internet-based business in North Lake as easily as I can in Charlottetown. It means static IP addresses, the ability to scale bandwidth as my business grows, service-level agreements.

It doesn’t (just) mean the ability to watch YouTube.

And while Aliant might have tricky euphemisms for why it’s not installing actual broadband infrastructure, if it were being honest it would simply admit that it doesn’t want to pay for it.

There’s no technical reason why absolutely every home on Prince Edward Island can’t be provided with actual wired broadband service. 

There’s nothing different about the soil or the air currents or the angle of the sun in Eastern Kings that makes installing broadband there any different than in downtown Charlottetown.

It’s just requires additional investment. Investment that, apparently, Aliant believes it can dance its way out of.

All of which would be fine if Aliant were simply another Internet company making its way in a competitive marketplace.

But it’s not: it made a deal with the people of PEI. A sole-sourced deal that was allowed because of its “regional development benefits.”

I have no issue with the original deal: government used its power in the marketplace to extract benefits to Islanders at not additional costs to taxpayers. That was wise and frugal.

But if we really believe in “One Island Community, One Island Future,” we can’t let Aliant get away with this: if an Islander is an Islander is an Islander, and we’re going to commit to equal access to the network for all, then we need to call Aliant on its bluff and demand that it do the honourable thing, and make the investment it committed to, letter and spirit.


Sue Williams's picture
Sue Williams on January 13, 2010 - 15:53

Well said Peter. This is the point I tried to make with Keith Lambe (Aliant Regional Manager) who told me “Broadband” does include wireless technology. They keep saying there are approximately 200 homes without DSL which seems very low considering the 100 in North Lake , 30 in St. Catherines and many, many more areas I know about. Half of St. Catherines (up to the old school) will have DSL and the rest of us are out of luck unless we sign on for a more expensive (despite the new deal announced today) and complicated system. Given the fact our Mac computers don’t have the INTEL chip needed to run the turbo stick it becomes more complicated. As I told Mr. Lambe for a communication company Aliant has done a terrible job communicating to individuals and the public at large and continues to do so.

Chuck Stevenson's picture
Chuck Stevenson on January 13, 2010 - 16:51

Peter — excellent job of articulating this situation. Its easy to get lost in Aliants double speak. Thanks for putting it out there. Where is the outrage on the part of the Govt? Its up to us to either call Aliant and the Govt on this issue or to simply let them get away with it.

Michael Stanley's picture
Michael Stanley on January 13, 2010 - 16:59

Hear Hear Peter!
Aliant has given me no reason why I don’t qualify to get High Speed. They just said I can’t get it. I live on the Inkerman Road in-between Rose Valley and Crapaud, which has High Speed on either end…. they just don’t want to come down my road.

LC's picture
LC on January 13, 2010 - 18:28

This is much larger than Eastern KIngs — understand the whole of Point Prim and many other areas in Central Queens are not being covered by high speed — and am sure there are many other areas -many of these places cannot even get Aliant Mobility so turbosticks would not be helpful — good post!

LM's picture
LM on January 13, 2010 - 18:55

About The Bell Aliant issue….I’m here on the Mount Buchanan/Point Prim peninsula and have already worked my way through ISN and a go at the Turbo Stick. ISN gave very spotty performance throughout the windy and snowstorm months and the Turbo stick…well I never got to plug it in because system requirements demanded an intel processor. This upgrade was not available in my 5 year old MAC (for love or money!) SO where do I go from Here? Mac started their dual processors 3 or 4 years ago…and a new computer will cost $800-$1000. How many more islanders will find that the Turbo technology does not work for them? Please don’t let this issue die down.
Your commentary was beautifully succinct

Alan's picture
Alan on January 13, 2010 - 19:25

…not living up to the spirit of their original agreement. …”

I don’t know what you mean by this, Peter. It would be not living up to the terms of the agreement if the agreement were properly written. This is just a matter of defining service levels for broadband from the outset in a schedule to an agreement and then holding Aliant accountable to meet those service levels. Nothing to do with the “spirit” unless the government of PEI screwed the taxpayer by spending money but not defining carefully the service being bought.

Lobie's picture
Lobie on January 13, 2010 - 19:28

Another reason why I pay extra to keep my ISN Highspeed. I spent years chasing Aliant and Eastlink for broadband in Mermaid (about 1 km from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as the crow flies). They gave me all manner of reasons why it was impossible. Within a week of Ruranet offering wireless highspeed service, Aliant had flyers in my door offering DSL at a rate that undercut Ruranet. Eastlink were only a few days behind.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on January 13, 2010 - 20:30

Right on.

Trouble is, this is not a local company that cares about the community, or can be forced to care with public pressure. Aliant has a friend in government. Aliants not about to do any more for the community then it has to.

And neither is our government.

Sandy Nicholson's picture
Sandy Nicholson on January 14, 2010 - 13:56

I feel that Bell Aliant is misrepresenting the number of households that do not have access to highspeed internet. It also seems that many people believe that it is a few remote areas that are affected. Here are communities that I know of that do not have access to broadband:

<li>South Melville</li>
<li>St. Catherines</li>
<li>Augustine Cove</li>
<li>North Tryon</li>
<li>New Glasgow</li>
<li>Point Prim</li>
<li>Eastern Kings</li>

I am sure that there are many more pockets across the Island. As you can see, these communities are not off the beaten path.

LC's picture
LC on January 14, 2010 - 14:28

Point Prim and Eastern KIngs are areas which include a significant number of communities
— They are saying about 100-200 households are affected but it is far larger than that

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 14, 2010 - 14:37

Agreed: if the original agreement with the Province was properly considered, the definition of “broadband” and “every community” should have been clearly spelled out.

sara's picture
sara on January 14, 2010 - 15:29

Hi- WHy don’t you email me- consider doing an interview with CBC? thanks-

Sandy's picture
Sandy on January 15, 2010 - 14:35

More communities I have found out about without broadband:

Rose Valley
Dixon Road

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 15, 2010 - 18:49

I spoke to a reader from Emyvale yesterday who was “beyond the reach” of DSL and he said it’s not all of Emyvale that’s not being served, just portions.

Randy's picture
Randy on January 15, 2010 - 20:37

While I really enjoy reading your blog and enjoy most of your content Peter, I have to admit.. you are very biased in your opinions on Aliant (It’s BellAliant now btw, you should know this as you work across the street from one of their buildings). Seeing that you were co-owner of ISN and sold your company to Eastlink, I guess it’s no wonder you want to belittle them on your blog every so often.

Of course the matter of high-speed is going to touch on a lot of nerves, especially in the rural areas of PEI. But let me ask you.. if you were still owner of ISN and had to get high-speed to every nook and cranny of PEI.. would it not be safe to say that wireless would be a good option until as you say.. the business needs require it? Hell.. the HSPA network out there now is faster than most people’s home networks.

So I guess I’m asking you, what would you do in BellAliants place? Spend millions of dollars (in this great economy that we’re in) getting high speed to 10 customers? I dunno.. but would certainly be curious to see your suggestion.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 15, 2010 - 20:52

<li>I never had any financial interest in ISN.</li>
<li>The price Aliant (or any infrastructure supplier) pays for access to the lucrative urban installs is paying what it takes to do the hard rural installs. Aliant said, in the public mind, “give us the government contract and we’re going to wire up the province.” If they didn’t want to actually do that, they should have made it clear from the beginning that they were opting out of the tricky bits.</li>

LC's picture
LC on January 15, 2010 - 22:25


I think you are inaccurate and unfairly characterizing Peter -I think he is stating what many other Islanders also believe is that BellAliant made a promise which it is not keeping —If they cannot offer high speed to most everyone in the most densely populated Province in Canada as promised then they are doing us all a disservice and as the list of communities not fully served grows illustrates the problem -It is far beyond the 100-200 households they indicated they would not reach —and it took a public meeting where they finally backed down on their outrageous rates — I think Peter is reflecting public opinion and he is not far off -and BTW I have defended Aliant in past as they have to serve the whole Island, they pay decent wages and do not cherry-pick like Eastlink just so you know  — Simply put, They should keep their promises !

Scott's picture
Scott on January 17, 2010 - 18:16

This is simply yet another broken promise by the Ghiz Government. However this time they have included Bell Aliant in their lies.

The problem will fix itself in 21 months during the next election. This is a clear broken promise by this Government and come election day in November 2011 we can all make sure Ghiz understands that you can’t lie to the people all the time.

For sure the numbers are higher than 200 families I estimate from talking to people and traveling around PEI that the numbers are in excess of 1000 families and maybe more. 1000 Families can translate into nearly 2-5000 votes for Ghiz to lose.

It is time people stands up and say eneough is enough with these crooks.

Sandyy's picture
Sandyy on January 17, 2010 - 23:13

I realize that not all homes within these communities are affected, but significant numbers in many. In Desable/ South Melville there are 39 homes in a 5 km stretch that is without access. In Bonshaw, there are approxmately 70 homes, including on the Trans Canada Highway. St. Catherines has approximately 30 homes without DSL access.

Shari's picture
Shari on January 21, 2010 - 20:44

We are still waiting for highspeed in North Milton! We have an appointment for installation on Feb 2, but when i mentioned it to a fellow who works for BellAliant, he warned me not to hold my breath! Fingers crossed, but still breathing!!

LM's picture
LM on January 30, 2010 - 14:39

Aside from the specifics of the Bell-Aliant/PEI government agreement, I’m left with a much more disturbing reality. Are you starting to feel helpless in making change, hopeless regarding progress on this island..and losing your trust in the spoken word of public officials ? Check your own level of skepticism around issues of health care, island costs of living, taxation ….feeling optimistic?

Our fundamental and undeniable right is to BE PRO-ACTIVE for change and progress. Keep this issue alive….and then the next one !!

Bell-Aliant… apology NOT accepted

Sue Williams's picture
Sue Williams on February 1, 2010 - 00:15

Community Meeting Concerning High Speed Internet

February 2, 2010
7:00 p.m.
Englewood School, Crapaud

The purpose of this meeting is to bring together those who are not yet served by the Island wide expansion of high speed Internet service. The results hoped for include:

clear, concrete procedures and time lines for service;
full understanding of the services being offered (type of technology, installation issues, limitations, operating systems requirements, computer types, etc.);
clear information on the charge structure and billing procedures; and
firm commitment by Aliant that the system proposed will be disseminated as expeditiously as possible.
Please spread the word to your neighbours. New information will be presented, and it is important that our currently unserved areas be well represented.
Preliminary Agenda
Introduction of MLA for Kellys Cross/Cumberland — Valerie Docherty

Presentation by Bruce Howatt, Vice President, Bell Aliant PEI

Discussion and Questions

Next Steps

LM's picture
LM on February 18, 2010 - 21:43

Well, after attending community meetings, giving a radio interview and fighting with Aliant personnel in the lobby of the phone company..I rec’d hard wired High Speed internet today here in Mount Buchanan.
On this day, at the very least, I am very happy to join the big world off island and thank Aliant for having the good sense to realize that Islanders were NOT going to let this one go.
I’m still concerned about the additional 1,000, plus or minus a few hundred or so families still waiting….Let’s keep this one alive until EVERYONE that wants it …has it.

Len Currie's picture
Len Currie on April 1, 2010 - 18:28

If anyone that reads this currently does not have DSL or access to the wireless HSPA network that BellAliant offers, please feel free to email me.

I do work for BellAliant and although not in the capacity to be able to make promises and provide high speed service (I’m in an altogether different department), I’d be more than happy to help you if you’re looking for help or service inquiries.

Simply pop me an email at lencurrie (at)

Keep up the great work on the blog Ruk!

(I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to post this comment on your other latest BellAliant DSL post :-)

Virginia's picture
Virginia on February 3, 2011 - 14:36

Hi, I am wondering how many people are actually still with out DSL as of the start of 2011?
I live in St. Nicholas and still do not have DSL, however neighbors up and down the road do.

Nathan MacPherson's picture
Nathan MacPherson on February 7, 2012 - 04:29

You can add Pownal to the list of communities not getting DSL. I am a Software Consultant and having a quality internet connection is vital to my career. I can ‘t understand why I cannot get high speed internet when I am only 10 minutes from Charlottetown. I have to pay $60/month for 1MB of bandwidth.
If Aliant is promising highspeed to all Islanders they should be held to that contract. Thanks for clearing this issue up, I had no idea that Aliant had a contract with the government of PEI.
What can I do as individual? Who do I complain too? Is there a person in the government that is ensuring that Aliant is living up the agreement?

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