Right in the centre - A missing service


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

Manitoba has a problem. Actually it has a lot of problems but proper cell phone and internet service is a glaring one.

Many years ago, as in about 150 years ago, Manitoba, as it is today, was a land of opportunity. Farming was starting to take hold, the fur trade was still a major thing and people with vision said, “Look at all that space, all that land.”

Roads weren’t really roads but ill-kept trails along the river banks. By way of the rivers or lakes, you could use a canoe or a small boat. There was regular steamboat service from Winnipeg to Brandon and even further west prior to the railways.If you couldn’t get from point A to point B by river, you could always walk or ride a horse. 

Opportunity was endless but access to opportunities was very limited. Building roads was an obvious answer and to this day, we are still building and maintaining roads, albeit some of them are in pretty bad shape. By the 1890s, railroads were an option, but an extremely expensive one. From the 1880s to the 1920s, towns clamoured for rail connection, a lifeline to opportunity, markets and access into and out of communities. Some communities went bankrupt in the mad rush to get a railroad connection. Railroads, at huge cost, became very efficient transportation. In the early 1900s, a person could make it by train from Regina to Winnipeg overnight and sleep on the way.

Once cars and trucks achieved acceptance and durability, the railways faded somewhat, but unlike the steam boats, they didn’t disappear. Back in the day when governments and towns went to the brink of bankruptcy to get a railway, the planners of the day put tons of money into the railway companies totally unaware of the risk presented by automobiles. A large amount of the investment in railways has been unfortunately lost as 1000s of miles of railways are now gone. The planners can’t be blamed for not foreseeing cars as they weren’t even a thing when the railway boom was underway.

So today, we have many miles of (rough) roads and still many miles of railways. What we are missing is internet connections and cell phone service. While cell service is OK, it is very expensive compared to other countries and very spotty. Cell calls frequently drop between towns. That’s unacceptable in terms of service and safety. There have been endless initiatives to get cell service and internet services to everyone. They have continued to fail. Even the latest and greatest new services are fraught with stories of non-service, high rates and poor maintenance.

Government money has been poured into these initiatives for 25 years or more and there’s still no end in sight. There is huge pressure for a solution, one that gives everyone equal, fast, secure and complete access to cell and high speed internet service everywhere.

I don’t have the answer but hopefully we don’t make the same mistake as we did with railways, that is overbuild and then abandon.

And, just like railways were ambushed, so to speak, by cars, trucks  and highways, is there a new technology out there awaiting us that will make current cell phone and internet connections obsolete. If readers have that answer, I would be pleased to hear from them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.