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State of The Business

Published on July 23, 2013




First non-profit, community-run, high-speed internet makes history

Topics : Chebucto Community Net , Queen Street , Eastern Canada , Halifax


The roof of McKeen Manor on Queen Street offers a commanding view of the downtown.


It is also home to the latest link providing Chebucto Community Net's non-profit high speed internet service to the manor's residents.


The oldest internet provider in the Maritimes made history on June 7 when volunteers completed installation of the first non-profit, community-run residential high speed internet access in Eastern Canada at Joseph Howe Manor.


Last weekend, volunteers put the finishing touches on McKeen Manor, which now also has enterprise-grade, low-cost wifi throughout the entire building.

What makes this pilot project at the two Halifax manors even more interesting is the fact they are the first "ubiquitous" wireless residential buildings in the province.


That means that you can walk from one floor to another and back again and never lose the connection as it seamlessly continues from one access point to another.


"We've been trying for more than 10 years to get this off the ground. Basically the latest chapter of the story started in March when I went to the board and said look, let's pay for it ourselves," explained Chebucto Community Net's officer manager Andrew Wright.


The project was initially expected to cost $23,000 but came under budget at $19,000. Wright said the cost for the two buildings, each with roughly 200 units, works out to about $50 per resident.


"The signal propagates through the building way better than we thought it would. We have two (access points) on every second floor (in both buildings)," Wright said.


"If money was no object, and really it wouldn't take a lot of money, we could do the whole peninsula. It cost the city of San Jose $98,000 for the equipment and they said it was a no-brainer. It can be used for public access cameras, parking meters, all kinds of things. It's very cost effective."


Working to ensure affordable internet access for everyone is a passion for Wright. He said it is too often inaccessible to the poor, the elderly and the ill.

That's why he wants to increase awareness about the high quality, high speed, affordable internet that Chebucto Community Net can provide. He hopes more people get onboard and support the community network so it can grow.

"I've seen the damage the digital divide does... It offends me on a genetic level," he said. "If you've got money, you've got high speed. If you're got an income under $30,000 a year, you see those numbers statistically start to drop as the income levels drop."


Wright and contractor/project partner Dave Johnston both volunteered their time to complete the project at the two low-income residential complexes.


Chebucto Community Net (www.chebucto.ns.ca) offers a variety of packages for affordable internet access. It costs $125 annually for an individual membership, or $165 for a family membership. However, no one is turned away if they can't pay and alternate arrangements are made.


The non-profit has operated on a shoestring budget for the past 16 years, which is why they were thrilled last week to receive $6,250 toward their server upgrade from Coun. Waye Mason's district capital budget.


"What happens next is, can we get people interested in getting this for themselves now that they can see it's working so well," Wright said. "We very much want to get to the underserved in our community. One-fifth in Metro have no access at all and that has to change."

ydentremont@hfxnews.ca