Friday afternoon, Saskatchewan was cut off from the rest of the world when the internet, including mobile data, went dead across the province. Since they have the monopoly in this province, they own all the equipment. There were no obviously no redundancies on their grid so the only people who would have had internet service had to have been on Xplornet. This was SaskTel’s second province-wide outage in two months. Both were caused by faulty equipment.
I went through a serious telecom outage this when I was up in Yukon. There was just one cable bringing service into the territory and it got waterlogged from all the firefighting going on. All telecom went down. When an outage like that happens in a remote territory with a population of around 25,000, it’s just one of those things that happen when you live up north. But in a province of more than one million people? It’s embarrassing.
The part of the outage that proved to me that SaskTel is not up to the task of running a 21st century telecom grid is how long it took for their answering service to get a message up saying, “We’re aware there’s a problem. It’s province-wide. We’ll update again as soon as we know how long t his will take.” You know, what SaskPower does within minutes of the lights going out. Instead, SaskTel’s answering service got flooded and would just hang up on you.
What I found most interesting about the outage was that I could have predicted it if I had thought about it hard enough. My internet was actually fine after I got the new booster last year. I was getting a decent signal and no drops. I could live with it. But my connection has been a nightmare since I got back this spring and it hasn’t been any better in town. I couldn’t get anything worth mentioning done in Moose Jaw and I had a hard time getting my emails in Willow Bunch. Something was up with the network, but SaskTel brushed me off at every call, telling me the problem was my phone.
It’s now the second morning since the outage. I have had a strong, steady signal (comparable to what I get without the booster areas where I don’t need the booster) since the internet came back up Friday morning. Yesterday was a perfectly non-frustrating day when I had research to do and while Google is still very slow, my searches came up. I even had internet well past 8PM when I normally don’t have usable service in the evening. Everything’s been fine this morning.
At some point while I was away, SaskTel increased speeds at the tower I connect to. When I’m not throttled and my signal is strong (as it’s been since yesterday morning), I’m getting speeds that are 2.5 times faster than last year (2.5Mbps). Considering what I went through for internet service until I got the new booster, I could actually be satisfied with this service if I knew I could rely on having it every day. I’m not delusional. I know that adequate internet service will take ages to come out here and I would be happy with small steps like doubling our speeds every six to twelve months. It says a lot that I didn’t notice for almost a month that I was getting better speeds than last year!
What the outage made me realise is that Haven’s internet issue is a Saskatchewan-wide issue. They’re always going to have the infrastructure, but we need more ISPs competing for business on that infrastructure so that there is more accountability when that infrastructure fails. Bell and Rogers are not a true competitors. What we need are small locally-owned ISPs that understand the unique challenges of operating a telecom in Saskatchewan. There are a couple, but they operate out of Saskatoon and Regina. I’ve contacted them to show that there is a large untapped market between the TransCanada and the Montana border, including the communities of Assiniboia, Willow Bunch, Coronach, Rockglen, and Scout Lake, that has been neglected by SaskTel and needs more options. Once these smaller ISPs get a foothold down here, then we can start having the conversation about getting service to the Sylvan Valley.
I’ve been in contact with ISPs in other provinces that offer nearly Canada-wide service, but are not in Saskatchewan. They all cite the difficulty of doing business with SaskTel as the primary reason why they are not in the province yet. And they were all very interested to learn that there is such an untapped market desperate for them to hammer out some sort of agreement with SaskTel.
Stressful as the outage was, it ended up being a good thing as it fixed something majorly wrong with SaskTel’s service. I just hope that I continue to enjoy adequate service for my last couple of weeks here.