Businesses need better broadband services, more choices; owners

By Paul Krajewski


High River business owners say they want more reliable, greater access to the internet. They don’t care how so long as they get it at a reasonable price and have options as to who they get it from. These residents made their remarks at a recent Town of High River broadband engagement session at the Highwood Memorial Centre on May 16. Town officials along with senior representatives from the IBI Group, a consultant agency working on behalf of the municipality to develop a broadband deployment plan, updated the crowd of over a dozen local business owners on its progress and asked for feedback.

During a break in the session, John Coleman, owner of Jolee Electronics, a locally-based regional computer and network servicing outfit, spoke to the Times about the needs of the business community. He said for most businesses, the speeds provided locally are sufficient, but there are those that are data intensive and require much higher rates to download and upload.

“A lot of people feel they need more than they do for business, but there are a lot of guys who really need the speed and can’t get it,” he said, noting that when they can get it, it isn’t reliable. He said there is often a disparity between what is offered in one location compared to another.

“I have clients who have moved buildings where they had enough for what they were doing, 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, and now they can only get five Mbps,” he said.

Coleman said he has one client who purchased a building and had to spend $28,000 and $200 a month to get internet.

“Now, we are hosting it somewhere else and sending it to them wirelessly; it’s secure, but there’s just more room for error,” he added. He said they need better, more reliable connections and a fibre network would be the best option. Others could work, but they just aren’t as effective, he added.

“I’m game for fibre everything,” he said, noting a municipally owned fibre infrastructure network, one that has been proposed by the town, is the best option as long as it is open to service providers so that businesses can choose who they want to go with.

“(The town should) provide the fibre and get two or three company’s to utilize it so I can choose,” he added. “They put it in on one end and I get it out the other. It may be more expensive than a single ring, but it can be done.

It’ll keep competition healthy and the town can still generate income.”

Tom Sales, owner of Cherry Lane Homes, said he’d like to see service providers close the gap between home and business package prices that can range drastically from one to the next.

“I’d like to see someone give us what we should be looking at in residential and business so we can run our businesses from our homes properly,” he said, noting the standard access he receives is substantially lower than it could be.”

It has become so bad that he said his provider has given him a discount for the poor service. Unlike Sales’ company that requires moderate broadband capabilities for basic design and business transactions, Patrick Gropp’s aerial photography company that makes topographic maps for clients across the country, Geodesy Group, needs substantially more.

“Our clients are all over Canada–we fly and go everywhere to do our work,” he said, noting they specialize in light imaging detection and ranging along with thermal imaging for wildfire mapping and energy and heat loss studies. The files his company transfers and receives are massive, often in the terabyte range, he added.

“The internet for us doesn’t really work for that,” he said. “That stuff has to be shipped, but at the same time, we have lots of data requirements–the need and ability to take compressed files and a variety of different things that we could drop box or FTP.

Slower internet services don’t provide for efficiency in that.”

He said they are finding it difficult to download bit packages and upload thumb-sized file images, putting a strain on operations as decisions are being delayed while his company is forced to ship or courier items that could easily be transferred via broadband.

“Our biggest issue is delay and getting stuff to people in an efficient and timely way,” he said. After recently relocating his business from Okotoks to High River, Gropp said he was faced with a frustrating dilemma. His business is located across from a building that has direct access to Axia’s SuperNet, a province-wide fibre network linked to mostly government buildings, but could not access that infrastructure because it was owned and operated by a private company.

“If commercial enterprise won’t come in, then the town needs to seriously look at putting that infrastructure in,” he added. “I think it will be a good investment for the town and will help it grow and prosper.”

Angela Groeneveld, business development specialist, said this is one of the reasons a municipally owned network would be advantageous for the local business community. Business owners are struggling to gain access in some areas of the town despite there being tie-in points already established at certain sites, she said. When setting up a business in the community, she said “the first question they are asking is ‘what broadband connections are there?”

Some business owners have covered the build-out expenses to bring broadband access to their property, but for one reason or another, neighbouring businesses are unable to tap into the established infrastructure, Groeneveld said.

“A neighbouring building or development beside them would like to go talk to (the service provider) about being able to tap into that and share it,” she said, noting this isn’t the case. “(Only) if it’s a large development or separate unit, they will have that conversation.

We are hoping to share expenses on a certain area.”

She said the concern is that there are upwards of seven build outs on one street, with each costing sometimes upwards of $100,000, when it would have made more sense for there to be one build out to service all of the businesses. Municipally owned infrastructure would provide access to each business or development and allow the owners to choose which provider they would like to go with, Groeneveld said.

“If the town owned the infrastructure that was in the ground there, the option is there for the consumer to pick whatever they want,” she added. “Right now, they only have three players to play with, so they are at their mercy as to what their build out is going to be to bring it in.”

The town is asking businesses to provide additional feedback through an online survey that can be accessed at until May 26. The town is working towards having a business plan in place by June 12 and will present to council their findings and options on June 19.


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