When it comes to internet management, Carolyn Roberts and her husband have a routine.
When they are both at home, neither of them can make a video call. If one has an online meeting, the other tries to disconnect. All this, while being weather dependent: if the leaves of a tree get in the way or if a heavy snowfall hits in winter, the connection could die out completely.
“It just became a habit for us,” Roberts told CBC. Quebec AM. “But that’s not a good way to work.”
The couple, who live in Mille-Isles, Quebec, have had spotty internet access since building their home in the Laurentians 19 years ago. Roberts said at the time they were told high-speed internet would be coming this summer.
“We’re still waiting,” she laughed.
Now she has a pole about nine meters high sticking out of the roof of her house that needs to be adjusted every year, depending on the growth of the trees. “It all depends on your valleys, your mountains and your hollows,” she said.
Still, Roberts considers herself one of the lucky ones. Many in the Laurentians do not have Internet at all.
About 180,000 to 190,000 homes in Quebec still don’t have an internet connection, but the Coalition Avenir Quebec government says that’s about to change.
The province announced on Monday that all Quebecers who wish to do so will be able to connect to high-speed Internet by September 30.
$1.3 billion to connect the province
During the last provincial election in 2018, Premier François Legault promised to connect every Quebecer in his first term. The September 30 date comes just days before the next election on October 3.
Radio-Canada estimates that about $1.3 billion has been spent in recent years to connect just under 250,000 homes across the province, including about $450 million from the federal government.
Large sums were sometimes spent on a single case. Radio-Canada quotes customers hooked up individually at high prices, with the cost frequently exceeding $10,000 per residence, and sometimes $25,000 to hook up a single customer.
Around 10,000 homes that still cannot be connected will be offered satellite internet access through Elon Musk’s Starlink service, the government announced on Monday.
Chloée Allary, who works as a community development coordinator for 4Korners, a local charity that helps people access programs and services, said it’s been a long time.
“[People] can’t download or really stream or watch anything. They can’t zoom in with their families,” she said. “People who are very rural, who are further north, they really just don’t have internet. And they struggle.”
During the pandemic, Allary said there were seniors who couldn’t see their doctor in person and were told to video call them, but couldn’t. The lack of internet has also contributed to their isolation, she said.
Allary fears that this will also hamper the development of the region. Remote workers, wanting to get out of town, might not choose the Laurentians if they can’t find reliable service, she said.
Roberts, who works at the local Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board, said it also made it difficult to attend school during the pandemic. Like at home, students often couldn’t use the internet at the same time as their parents, who needed it for work.
“So because of the parents’ work schedules, the children might not be able to attend their 10 a.m. class, but they would be present for their 2 p.m. class,” she said.
When asked how she felt about the idea of having reliable internet by the end of September, Roberts said that after nearly 20 years of promises, she wouldn’t be holding her breath.
Still, she thinks it’s money well spent.
“It’s 2022 now. People need the internet,” she said. “It’s just the modern world.”