Canopy/Wimax/LTE: Not “The” Solution to Rural Broadband

Twelve years. That’s how long we have lived in our nice little house, with a good sized yard, and truly insufficient internet service. We’re not even in a real rural setting – their’s a national chain grocery store roughly 300m from our house. Our home has always been serviced by cable television and wired telephone (we haven’t subscribed to either since 2008), yet the only internet service that is offered on either of those connections is 33.6kbs dial up. Still, in 2017!

About 11 years ago the Ontario government subsidized Xplornet’s (Barrett Xplore in the USA) deployment of the Motorolla Canopy 802.11G wireless “high speed” internet system in our region. We subscribed to the service, because it was supposed to be faster than dial up and indeed, when it actually functioned, it was about 10 times faster. This system was eventually upgraded to Wimax and LTE somewhere around 2015-2016, which allowed for sustained download speeds between 600KB/s and 800KB/s on a good day. Additionally, two other providers moved into the area. We currently subscribe to Kingston Online Services, which is a Canadian company that provides “good enough” service/reliability given the circumstances, I suppose.

The problems with this system, which make it an insufficient solution, are thus.

1. The laws of physics ruin the use of any upload-related online service.
20Km away KOS has a massive transmitter that pumps out a signal that is strong enough to deliver a decent data rate. Conversely, on top of my roof I have a transmitter that is about the size of a slice of bread and it’s signal strength is so low that it can’t even maintain a consistent connection (a connection without frequent packet loss). That’s physics (and CRTC regulations regarding private radio transmission levels) in action. Unfortunately, there is also a layer of round-robin hand offs on return signals that is used to balance the demand on the hardware from all the users, which means that unlike most wired internet connections that are constantly active, wireless connections are interrupted several times per second by design.

The end result is… We can’t Skype with my mom who lives on the other side of the country, because she can’t see us. I couldn’t become a Twitch or YouTube streamer, because the games I was playing were often starved for bandwidth as it was. It takes so long to upload anything, we can’t use automatic online storage to back up our pictures (let alone videos). And when I do back things up, like a 3.4GB copy of my Legend of Hondo development virtual machine, the connection becomes saturated for 9+ HOURS. In short, it means my family can’t fully take part in the global village.

2. 720p video is the best we can get on streaming services.
Anything higher and it will just sit there buffering, either indefinitely or every 10 to 20 seconds. Case in point: We have Shaw satellite television, which comes with an online streaming service and our internet connection is incapable of streaming anything from the service at all. In fact, even the menu system for it takes forever to load. It wasn’t until 2015 that we could use Netflix on the lowest data rate setting.

3. Canopy/Wimax/LTE is expensive.
We pay about $65/month after taxes to KOS for “Up to 6 Mbps performance” with a 120GB data cap, with free data between 1am and 6am. How generous of them with the 5 hours of free data… Their current packages are here for reference. By comparison, wired internet services are often 40% cheaper while the service itself is an order of magnitude better.

4. It is an economic disadvantage.
Streaming video, creating video content, taking part in work related video chat, and even live podcasting are simply not possible on these type of wireless internet connections. Therefore, no one even has the chance to use them to earn money.

From people who technically live in a city of 35,000+ citizens (such as our family) to people who live on Native reserves that have fiber optic trunk lines running through or near their lands, thousands of Ontarians are being denied the ability to take part in what is an accessible global economic power house for the majority of other Canadians. At this point, in 2017, it feels like discrimination.

Why do I and thousands of other Canadians live in the “ghetto of the Internet”?

Because the major telcos are greedy and our government lets them get away with it.

Over a decade ago the CRTC mandated that the major telecom companies in Canada could charge customers an extra bit of money each month, provided that the money went into an a savings account to fund future wired network development. Despite the mandate explicitly stipulating wired, terrestrial service, when the time came to spend the saved money, all of the major telcos thumbed their nose at the CRTC and spent the money on wireless cell phone system expansion.

Why did they do that? Because Canadians spend more per GB of cell phone data than almost everywhere else in the world!

The major telcos and their smaller cohorts who would never dare to cross them, have a strangle hold on the telecommunication infrastructure in this country that they use in a hostile manner toward the very people who paid for it, the Canadian People. Not only have we been paying our bills, but we have also been subsidizing the creation of these (privately owned) systems through several tax programs. Even our crown corporations take part in the insanity, such as how Ontario Hydro (now HydroOne) owns one of the largest privately owned fiber optic networks in the world, which they built with our tax dollars (so they could fire all the “Meter Maids” and use wireless meters interested). In fact, all of the Canopy/Wimax/LTE service providers in southern Ontario connect to the greater internet by way of the HydroOne fiber optic network through a subsidized program (which I can no longer find references to online).

Building  cell phone towers and connecting them to the already existing fiber and copper infrastructure is cheaper and easier than deploying copper wired internet to residences. Despite that, the telcos charge considerably more for the wireless services than for the wired services. There is no altruism in the Canadian telecom business, just a whole lot of greed and a misplaced sense of entitlement by a handful of companies. To defy a government mandate so that they can provide an inferior (and potentially economically debilitating) service to their customers, is nothing short of shameful.

Local cable TV companies can’t be bothered to install internet hardware on their lines in areas they deem are low volume. Furthermore, the companies who own the lines won’t even allow third party companies to install the internet equipment on the lines (A fact I learned in my conversations with a smaller telecom). What’s worse though is that the companies who own the lines have no issues raising their rates for all of their customers, despite the reality that they aren’t even delivering many of their services to thousands of their “rural” (low volume) customers (such as internet, VoIP phone, and fully automated video on demand). It is unquestionably inappropriate for rural customers to pay more for their service, simply because the company offers a whole wack of other services that the rural customers can’t even access. Why does this happen? Again, greed, plain and simple.

For the last decade I have lived around 7 kilometers away from a HydroOne fiber optic trunk line, a Rogers fiber optic trunk line, and a Bell Canada fiber optic trunk line, yet the best wired internet that I can get is 33.6kbs dial up.

As the kids would say, “Seriously, what the fuck?“; I have been sick of this issue for a very long time.