Ryder Lake residents struggle with internet access during COVID-19 pandemic

Over 400 people in the rural community have signed a letter requesting emergency intervention

At a time when reliable internet is crucial for staying connected, the rural community of Ryder Lake is feeling ignored.

More than 400 residents signed a letter describing a “dire internet situation in Ryder Lake and its surrounding neighbourhoods in a critical time of emergency.”

The signees claim that Ryder Lake suffers from non-existent or outdated communications infrastructure.

“Crucially, we have no highspeed internet, a situation that is exacerbated by the lack of cell coverage for much of the area and an antiquated land line system that is regularly out of commission,” their letter suggests. “We have lobbied the council, TELUS and other entitles for many years and despite warm words and promises, nothing has been done to alleviate the situation.”

The letter is being sent to TELUS CEO Darren Entwhistle along with a lengthy list of politicians including B.C. Premier John Horgan, Minister of Citizen Services Anne Kang, local MLA Laurie Throness, local MP Mark Strahl and Chilliwack mayor Ken Popove.

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The letter points out that with schools moving online during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ryder Lake children are unable to participate.

“At a time when schools are operating from home, our children cannot access much of the content,” the letter reads. “They are struggling to keep up and deeply frustrated at not having access to the same resources and educational opportunities that their friends just 15 minutes away have.

People who are required to work from home are having to rely on spotty connections.

“Family connections and social cohesion mechanisms that others have been able to embrace via the internet have been profoundly impacted, and our access to basic resources that others can find quite easily, is deeply degraded,” the letter continues. “The talk of Zoom and other video-conferencing systems has seemed ironic as we struggle even to download an email.”

The signees refer to a United Nations report declaring internet access a human right, and call on TELUS and the provincial government to come up with a quick fix.

“With the anticipated longevity of the COVID-19 crisis, including the potential for further lock down periods in the future, we urge those concerned to act quickly to help the children and families of our community and to prevent future emergency situations becoming way worse than they need to be,” the letter concludes.

A TELUS spokesperson responded Monday morning, saying the community is currently serviced with wireless service from a local cellular phone tower and high-speed internet access through copper. In 2017, Douglas Self said TELUS invested $55 million to connect homes and businesses in Chilliwack to its gigabit-enabled PureFibre network, but the project couldn’t be extended to Ryder Lake.

“In 2018, we engaged the community of Ryder Lake to explore the possibility of a Fibre build which ultimately was determined not to be feasible for the community or TELUS,” Self said. “In remote areas where there is a small population across a sizable chunk of land, the economics are challenging as the cost to connect each premises dramatically increases from a typical community build.

“In those cases a cost sharing model such as a public-private partnership must be enabled to successfully complete the project and fit the specific needs of the community. We remain committed to working with the government, the community, and other government agencies to explore options to enhance connectivity in this area.”


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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