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West Coast celebrates high speed internet

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the project brought “a new meaning to Canada’s surfing capital.”

Getting connected means making connections.

The West Coast recently gathered to celebrate the nearing completion of a roughly $12 million project, paid for by Telus, BC Hydro, and All Nations Trust Company that’s being touted as a game-changer.

After roughly four years of anticipation, and a few temporary hangups, Telus has brought fibre optic high speed internet to the Coast. B.C. Hydro replaced roughly 350 power poles along Highway 4 for Telus to run the fibre through.

B.C.’s Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Amrik Virk was in Tofino on Sept. 22 to celebrate the new fibre optic capacity with local leaders and representatives from Hydro and Telus.

Virk said the divide between urban and rural communities is disappearing as improved online access is delivering commerce, education and healthcare opportunities to remote locations.

“There’s an opportunity for your next generation. There’s nothing stopping them from starting off that next world-level company right here in the Ucluelet-Tofino area,” Virk said. “Nothing whatsoever is stopping you from connecting to the world.”

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the project brought “a new meaning to Canada’s surfing capital.”

She said local leaders have lobbied for increased internet speed for years and it was the first issue raised to her by Ucluelet’s then-mayor Bill Irving the day after she was voted into office in a Jan, 2013, byelection.

“He said,  ‘Josie, congratulations now we’ve got to get to work on the internet. We need to get high speed internet out to our communities,’” Osborne said.

“I realized that I’d hopped onto a train that had already left the station. It was a journey that’s was already underway and there were people we had to pick up along the way and that’s exactly what we did. There’s no way that any one of us could have done this project alone and it is a fine example of collaboration and the way that willing parties can work together.”

Speaking on behalf of Ucluelet, Coun. Marilyn McEwen said the faster technology would “transform” West Coast communities.

“This will truly benefit locals visitors and future residents in so many ways,” she said.

“Our past elected officials have lobbied long and hard for high speed internet for many many years and, finally, they were successful in getting Telus and Hydro in the same room at the same time to talk about it and the rest is history.”

Telus’ general manager for Vancouver Island Ray Lawson said teamwork and communication allowed the project to reach fruition.

“It was difficult in the beginning to come together but, as we came to know each other and came to work together, the difficulties seemed to disappear because we became united in a common cause and that was to actually connect our communities and enable them to grow,” he said.

Hydro spokesperson Ted Olynyk called the achievement “monumental.”

“People come from all over the world here to get away from it all, but that doesn’t mean that this community also wants to be away from it. This community wants to be part of it,” Olynyk said.

“It will increase employment opportunities as well. Not everybody can be a surfing instructor.”

Speaking to the Westerly News outside the ceremony, Ucluelet First Nation president Les Doiron told said the fibre project would have a huge impact.

“Being able to communicate with the rest of the world is paramount,” he said adding higher internet speed would provide access to business opportunities and online healthcare.

“Out on the West Coast, the internet has been painfully slow so being able to go through at a high speed is going to be exciting.”

He added the ability to access healthcare providers online would save dollars, and, potentially, lives.

“Travel is really one of the biggest downfalls that we have. It’s a really huge expense for the nations that are out here on the West Coast because most of the health facilities are in Port Alberni or Nanaimo or Victoria or Vancouver so in order for us to get there you have car, ferry or planes, hotels and accommodations and that’s really hard on our budget,” he said.

“It will probably save lives even by being able to discuss with your healthcare worker what your chest pains might be or whatever ails you.”

He said collaboration between the Ucluelet First Nation’s staff and the other parties involved in the fibre project illustrated how effective communication can lead to big gains.

“Anything we can do to work on, improve and build bridges has been monumental and, I think, we’re getting there,” he said. “One of my biggest stresses is communication. We need to communicate better; everybody. We’re working on it and I think it’s coming.”

Toquaht First Nation Chief Anne Mack said the project would help her Nation bring its members back home to the community of Macoah.

“The main initiative Toquaht has is our vision to bring people home and the internet is part of life today. It’s something the youth especially like and it’s something that business and enterprises would benefit from,” she said adding Macoah’s new internet access would allow the Nation to move it’s administration office out of Ucluelet.

“Now we look forward towards having our own government house in our own territory, so that’s really exciting.”

She said the West Coast’s unique geography is tough to navigate and online communication could lead to closer communication without the need to travel.

“It will give us so much more potential of meeting and building relationships and moving forward,” she said.

“We’re excited to vision the benefits that high speed internet will do for our community…We’re going to be pushing hard on developing entrepreneurs. That’s how we see how we will be able to sustain ourselves in our beautiful area.”