Frus­tra­tion for busi­nesses in re­gion with in­ter­net, cell phone ser­vice

The Casket - - PAGE TWO - RICHARD MACKEN­ZIE richard­mac@the­cas­

Run­ning a suc­cess­ful busi­ness in ru­ral parts of Nova Sco­tia cer­tainly has its unique chal­lenges. Amongst the big­gest, and growing daily as peo­ple be­come more and more de­pen­dent on com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy like smart­phones, are prob­lems around in­ter­net and cell phone ser­vice.

“We don’t have any; your cell phone will not ring here, at Lis­comb Lodge, at all,” gen­eral man­ager Karen We­naus said, us­ing a mat­ter-of-fact tone pur­posely.

“Wi-fi, it’s not too bad and tex­ting, I joke that it’s like a fast email,” she added.

We­naus said guests at the lodge will drive five min­utes up, or down, the road to get ser­vice and that if it’s just a two-minute call to let a loved one know they’ve ar­rived, “then we bite the bul­let and say, ‘here, use this house phone.’”

“Of course, that two-minute call, we pay for that ev­ery time. And, we still have a pay phone here or they can use it from their room and, of course, there will be room charges on a phone [call]. When is the last time you paid for room charges hav­ing to use the phone? If you’re on the phone for a cou­ple of min­utes, it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to cost three or four dol­lars.”

It’s a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on busi­ness We­naus points out, es­pe­cially when it comes to at­tract­ing cor­po­rate book­ings from pro­fes­sions such as real es­tate, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal and med­i­cal.

“Tech­ni­cally, they can’t come here; if they need to be con­nected, that’s not go­ing to hap­pen for them here,” she said.

The re­sult is the ma­jor­ity of their busi­ness be­ing re­cre­ational and so­cial and even that comes with the prob­lem as peo­ple for­get, or don’t re­ally take it in, when they’re told, specif­i­cally, there is no cell phone ser­vice at the lodge.

“When you’re mak­ing your reser­va­tion, one of the last things we say to you be­fore we say ‘can we help you with any­thing else’ is, we say, ‘and just so you’re aware, your cell will not work here, will not ring here, but we do have Wi-fi ser­vice,’” We­naus said.

“And, once again, it prob­a­bly hap­pens once a week, some­body comes up and says, ‘I didn’t know you don’t have cell ser­vice.’ In the end, if you’re check­ing in some­where and if you’re dis­ap­pointed right off the get-go, then I’m fight­ing the up­hill bat­tle to make sure you’re hav­ing a great time at Lis­comb Lodge, right from the start.”

We­naus has been mak­ing the case for ser­vice while at­tend­ing var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal and tourism meet­ings in the area.

“For five years or more; if we don’t get the cell ser­vice work­ing prop­erly on the East­ern Shore, the streets are go­ing to roll up be­cause, ev­ery year that goes by, that younger per­son, they no longer know what it is to be with­out a phone,” she said, recit­ing a warn­ing she would be happy to not have to use ever again.

“That 15-year-old who is now the 20-year-old, who would be book­ing, could say, ‘let’s go to Lis­comb Lodge’ and ca­noe, kayak, hike or what­ever, and a friend might say back, ‘we can’t go there be­cause my cell doesn’t work.’

“Cell ser­vice is vi­tal; this is not a lux­ury any­more,” she added.

“This is an ev­ery­day ser­vice that we should be hav­ing and what blows my mind away is that five min­utes on ei­ther side of us, we have cell ser­vice, yet Lis­comb Lodge, which is the sec­ond largest em­ployer on the East­ern Shore, the largest ho­tel on the East­ern Shore, does not have cell ser­vice.”

Home-based chal­lenges

Not too far from Lis­comb, still in the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the District of St. Mary’s, is Leigh Mcfarlane and her home-based busi­ness The Soap Com­pany of Nova Sco­tia.

Mcfarlane said she was bet­ter off when based in nearby Sher­brooke be­cause she had ac­cess to a pack­age for her phone and in­ter­net, but the short move to Port Hil­ford is cost­ing her money.

“I had a 1-800 num­ber for my clients to call me all wrapped into one lit­tle bun­dle, but when I moved back out to Port Hil­ford, ba­si­cally, my costs went up $1,200 a year,” she said, not­ing she had the choice of a satel­lite or an­tenna ser­vices and went with satel­lite feel­ing it’s more re­li­able.

“But it’s capped, so that’s what I’m deal­ing with right now,” she said.

“We maxed it out last month, 50 gi­ga­bytes and there is noth­ing higher than that to go with. It’s not like we’re out here in the coun­try want­ing to watch Net­flix all the time; it’s lit­er­ally about be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate. I’m sit­ting here, this whole time I’ve been talk­ing to you, I know my in­ter­net has maxed out. The new month kicks in to­mor­row so I’ll be back up to speed again but, ba­si­cally, it’s like slow dial up right now.”

And her cell phone ser­vice is spotty, re­li­able only in cer­tain parts of her house.

“So it’s challenging; it’s very challenging from a com­mu­ni­ca­tions per­spec­tive when ev­ery­thing is be­ing done on­line,” Mcfarlane said.

“And I rec­og­nize I choose to live here, I get that, it’s a per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity thing. I get to live in this beau­ti­ful place but the costs, in cer­tain ways, are higher. So it does make it challenging and what it comes down to is, it im­pacts my abil­ity to put money to­wards job cre­ation … that is the real nuts and bolts of it.

“I have an on­line store. I need to be able to get at it, re­li­ably and quickly, in or­der for it to be ef­fec­tive and not take a whole lot of ex­tra time, which is money.”

Un­able to con­tinue

In an­other part of the re­gion, Cape Ge­orge res­i­dent Brenda Rose was hop­ing to con­tinue her English as a sec­ond lan­guage tu­tor­ing, on­line.

“As soon as I tried to tu­tor on­line, I was us­ing Skype and Face­time and I have a re­ally great com­puter, it’s state of the art, it be­came ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­cause there was a lot of buffer­ing, hes­i­ta­tion and, out-and-out, dropout; I would just lose the con­nec­tion com­pletely,” Rose said.

“When you’re talk­ing about lan­guage, peo­ple have to hear you clearly so that they can re­peat the words and pick up your in­flec­tion and tone, and we couldn’t do it. So I had to give up tu­tor­ing.”

She de­cided to try again af­ter mak­ing a con­nec­tion with a Chi­nese lan­guage school.

“I signed up with them, the money wasn’t par­tic­u­larly good but I didn’t care be­cause I could work from my home, and it was

ex­actly the same prob­lem,” she said. “Af­ter three les­sons, the lan­guage school reached out to me and said that my words were so chopped up through buffer­ing that the young peo­ple were not get­ting what they were sup­posed to be get­ting, so that dried up my last source of in­come.

“That re­ally was an ab­so­lute bum­mer. That’s when I wrote to Mary [Maclel­lan, Antigo­nish County coun­cil­lor] in frus­tra­tion and told her that had I known then what I know now, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have moved to Nova Sco­tia.”

Rose said she has spo­ken to oth­ers around her ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sim­i­lar frus­tra­tion and echoed We­naus’ an­noy­ance in the fact high speed in­ter­net is only five min­utes away from her lo­ca­tion.

“I could be do­ing a whole lot more with and for the com­mu­nity and prov­ince, if I was able to do what I’m trained to do; my spe­cialty is sec­ond lan­guage ed­u­ca­tion,” she said. “I would be the per­fect per­son to con­duct on­line tu­tor­ing, ex­cept, I can’t do it.”

Richard Macken­zie

Brenda Rose doesn’t have a strong enough in­ter­net ser­vice to con­tinue tu­tor­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage, from her Cape Ge­orge home.

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