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Friday, December 1, 2023

Denman’s Internet Situation Today – Peter Spurr

This article is written to improve the information circulating on Denman Island about the internet and related matters. It was written by the committee of the Denman Island Residents Association that has been looking into improved internet for the last six years.  

During recent months Denman Islanders have encountered varied information about the internet, CityWest and related matters:

  • Mailed notices, offers and phone calls from Telus and CityWest
  • comments by employees from Telus, CityWest and Driftwood 
  • notice and letters in The Grapevine, and Facebook posts and responses  
  • rumors 

This article provides information about all aspects of Denman’s telecommunications situation, then concludes with an outline of current internet problems.

  1. Telephone

1.1 LandLine The only landline service on Denman at present is provided by Telus. Some telephones employ Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which is an internet service, not a landline. Landlines can usually function during power failures, while VOIP systems only function when the internet works, although they may have lower monthly costs. CityWest will provide landline service when its fibre optic network becomes operational here.

1.2 Cellular Cellular phones usually allow the internet to be accessed. However, the speed of both uploads and downloads is limited, as is the ability to stream (Netflix, Zoom, etc). Both Rogers and Telus sell “smart hub” service, wherein their special receivers/modems produce internet with slightly increased speeds and volume from cellular signals, susceptible to the normal cellular weaknesses.

Cellular service on Denman depends upon the location of the cell phone relative to a transmission tower. The tower near Grafitti Hill provides Rogers and Telus service along Lacon and Northwest Roads, and across Denman Road to the old school/recycling area. The west side receives Vancouver Island signals from a Rogers and Telus tower near Bowser, and perhaps from the Freedom Mobile installation at Buckley Bay. The east side of Denman Island receives weak service coming from Rogers and Telus towers near Qualicum Beach, or from Rogers and Telus towers on Texada Island. The north end receives some signals from all providers in Comox.

There are several types of mobile or cellular networks (3G,4G, 5G, LAN, WAN).  Cellular service deteriorates as the volume of users increases (supper hour, weekends, summers). Where signals are weak, calls often drop or otherwise fail.


The three largest mobile telecommunications companies operate through many company names: Koodo, Public Mobile and DCI Wireless are Telus; Fido, Chatr, Cityfone, Primus, Zoomer, Speakout, SimplyConnect, PhoneBox, Canadiansim and Shaw are Rogers; and Virgin, Lucky, PC Mobile, Bell Aliant, Northwestel and Wundle are Bell.

  1. Internet

2.1 Copper wire The most basic broadband internet is Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology, using copper wire conductors like landline telephones. Copper wires cannot support the speeds needed for intense activities like gaming, streaming or multiple users within a house. Across Canada, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are getting out of DSL in favour of delivering broadband through fibre optic cabling.

Telus employs DSL service distributed from “central offices” near the Activity Centre on Kirk Road, and at the junction of East Road and McFarlane Road. DSL service decays with distance from the Telus office – service is adequate within a kilometer while at 5 km there is no reliable service. For households near Telus’ “central offices” who aren’t heavy internet users Telus’s service may be considered adequate. 

2.2 Satellite Two ISPs provide Denman with internet via satellite, supplying service at higher speeds than DSL. Both require a dish pointed at their satellite with nothing (like trees) blocking their signal. 

2.2.1 Xplornet Also known as Xplore and Xplore Mobile, in 19 years this New Brunswick company has grown to be Canada’s largest rural internet provider, especially popular in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Its satellites are high above which limits the speed of their internet, but they can be accessed broadly in the southern sky. This is called Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). Xplornet’s focus is shifting to ground-based systems. 

2.2.2 Starlink This is a newer, fast-growing service that employs Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, providing faster speeds than DSL or GEO, and less latency than GEO. It requires more accurate line-of-sight access to the northern sky than GEO. 

2.3 Satellite Television There is no active cable television wiring on Denman Island. The only cable television available, other than television sourced through the internet, is satellite-based service available from Rogers/Shaw, Bell or Telus.

2.4 Fibre Optic Fibre optic cable allows fast, large capacity broadband service, and can simultaneously transmit varied media (telephone, internet, television, other). It is the new standard in telecommunications for the future. 

Fibre is used to service Telus’ two “central offices” and a few special customers on Denman (Denman school, BC Ferries). It does not offer fibre optic service to regular residential customers. 

Denman’s Internet Committee worked with Telus for two years, aiming to obtain senior government financing to install universal fibre optic service. After our intensive work showed that Denman should qualify for this support, Telus withdrew, saying it considers Denman to be a low priority for improvement and its DSL system will suffice. 

CityWest is installing fibre optic cabling throughout Denman Island and will offer internet, telephone and television services. Its network is almost ready to serve customers.

  1. CityWest

3.1 History The CityWest corporation evolved from a local telephone company founded in 1910. Wholly-owned by the City of Prince Rupert, it gradually expanded its operations to cable television and internet services, and it grew geographically to include Terrace, Smithers, Houston, Vanderhoof, Kitimat, Hazelton, Kitwanga, and Haida Gwaii. Four years ago it formed a partnership with the Strathcona Regional District to bring fibre optic service around Vancouver Island, connecting 139 communities in a project known as the Connected Coast.

3.2 Connected Coast “The Connected Coast” project will run 3,400 km of fibre optic cable on the seabed around Vancouver Island and up to Haida Gwaii, to provide “backbone” trunk service. The project cost is about $45 Million (of which about $13 Million is managed by CityWest), financed by the federal “Connect to Innovate” (CTI) program and BC’s “Connecting British Columbia” program. Locally, this cable has been laid subsea through Lambert Channel and down to Vancouver, and landings have been established at Gravelley Bay on Denman and at Shingle Spit on Hornby. 

3.3 Denman and Hornby During the autumn of 2021 residents of Denman and Hornby decided, in a referendum, to participate in a project that would see CityWest install “last mile” fibre optic services throughout their islands, costing about $7.6 Million. Residents agreed that CVRD would borrow about $770,000 and contribute it plus $142,000 of CVRD funds to the build on Denman and Hornby Islands, and that a local improvement charge would be added to the islands’ taxes for about ten years to repay the loan. CityWest agreed to share 20% of its annual net revenues from the islands with CVRD for 20 years, and CVRD agreed that these funds would be used to support a grant program for the islands. 

3.3.1 Progress on Denman During the spring of 2022, Driftwood Communications from Victoria, a contractor hired by CityWest, began underground installations of fibre along Denman roads. Driftwood encountered unexpected rock, roots and other physical obstacles, had difficulty finding accommodation and labour, and had equipment problems. This July Driftwood’s contract ended and it left Denman. 

A fibreoptic distribution network is installed along most Denman roads, with green “flowerpots” near the entrance to driveways (except where refused). “Drops” from the flowerpots to boxes installed on the outside of subscriber’s homes have already been completed at several hundred homes. Final connections from outside boxes to inside modems are complete at many homes. However, while this Denman network is connected to “The Connected Coast”, that trunk line is not yet energised.

CityWest has said this “last mile” installation exceeded its schedule and budget, requiring CityWest to increase its contribution and equity, revise its financial planning, and delay completing service to all Denman roads. Part of the overrun stems from incorrect information about the number of Denman houses that the province supplied to CityWest and provided funding for (about 600 whereas CityWest is finding the actual number is 20-30 percent higher). CityWest says it will do everything it can to finish installing fibre to service the entire island and is currently developing an application to the province, requesting a supplemental grant to cover part of the shortfall. 

Current Problem  

Denman’s internet is now delayed by a problem in Vancouver. The ”Connected Coast” backhaul trunk cannot begin operating until it is connected with a distribution terminal a few blocks from where the trunk cable comes ashore in downtown Vancouver. This connection must be authorized in detail by the City of Vancouver, and this was applied for over a year ago.

The Vancouver delay disrupts CityWest’s operational and financial planning for service on Denman. CityWest’s installation on Denman is slowed until the timing of the connection in Vancouver is resolved. 

The final steps in CityWest’s installation work on Denman are: 

  1. installing drops from the flowerpots beside the roads to subscribers’ houses;
  2. installing modems within subscribers’ homes and connecting them to their exterior drops; 
  3. where and when Steps 1) and 2) are complete, beginning the actual service; and
  4. completing installations along several Denman roads that are not serviced. 
Author: TIG

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