The problem with the notion that a certain party will always represent your concerns is, that certain party eventually winds up as your government.
And when it does, there will be a time when that party’s commitment to representing your interest runs into the unpleasantness of economic choices and bureaucracy.
This seems to be what’s happening to those rural Saskatchewan residents who are now unhappy with the Sask. Party government’s handling of changes to Internet delivery.
For years in opposition, the Sask. Party argued that NDP governments closed hospitals and allowed roads to deteriorate had abandoned rural Saskatchewan.
And to the Sask. Party’s credit, it has addressed many serious rural issues — not the least of which is the education tax on agriculture land.
But given the mantra of Sask. Party MLAs that they would never neglect rural concerns like the NDP did, the rightful expectations of rural residents was that every concern would be properly addressed.
Well, when it comes to the issue of high-speed Internet provided by SaskTel to rural residents — especially rural residents in Saskatchewan’s southeast corner — it’s rather questionable whether the 30 rural government MLAs are being any more effective at addressing the issue than the previous NDP government’s city MLAs.
At issue is a broadband network so obsolete that SaskTel is now struggling to find parts for it and a decision by federal Industry Canada to take away broadband with.
In fairness to SaskTel, it is trying to find alternative solutions to rural customers by switching to Explornet satellite service and offering customers a “4G mobile stick” to address the problem.
But it also seems obvious that SaskTel sees this as a minor issue that affects only 8,000 of its 268,000 Internet customers — an issue that it doesn’t seem to be a high priority.
That is a huge source of frustration for those rural Internet customers affected — especially given their expectation that their rural government MLAs should be able address such concerns.
But as it stands right now, many customers affected by what SaskTel’s change say they don’t feel they getting any better service than under the NDP government.
“I feel that SaskTel is saying: ‘well, it’s just rural Saskatchewan. They’ll get over it’,” said one woman who did not want to identified because of business concerns in a part of the province where it’s still not fashionable to criticize the government.
The woman explained that her farm and neighbouring community are outside the Explornet satellite footprint and that a stick, isn’t exactly a great solution because Ipads and most smart phones don’t have USB ports.
Of course, private suppliers like YourLink seem somewhat interested in filling the void, but it’s not economically for them to put up towers and they don’t have access to SaskTel’s cell towers.
More bothersome to the woman is the lack of understanding by SaskTel, government and the province as a whole that quality Internet service is vital to farm and rural businesses.
“We don’t want Internet to check out Facebook accounts,” the woman said, noting that decent bandwidth is critical for online business like farm auctions to Skyping clients. “We need it for our businesses.”
Worse yet, the potential of limiting rural customers to eight gigabytes a month (roughly what would be needed to download two or three HD movies) is severely limiting to rural business.
But even those who might not need that much Internet capacity for business reason have a fairly good argument that they should have access to the same amenities as their city cousins.
Or at least, they were led to believe that such matters would be less of an issue under a Saskatchewan Party government.
SaskTel’s handling of rural Internet seems to be telling them something else.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.