07/09/2015 01:05 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia premier denounces Eastlink Internet cap for rural customers

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is harshly criticizing plans by Eastlink to cap monthly data usage for rural Internet customers, saying his government will reach out to the company's competitors to improve Internet access in those areas.

McNeil said some rural customers still do not have access to adequate high-speed Internet, something he considers an essential service like transportation infrastructure.

"This is not, in our view, a luxury. This is something that we believe Nova Scotians deserve," said McNeil after a weekly cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“We are running out of patience, quite frankly, as a government, with what we believe is inadequate service.”

McNeil said he's frustrated by the move from Eastlink, which he says is not in the best interest of Nova Scotians.

"To add insult to injury, they tell these Nova Scotians who have inadequate service, 'We want you to pay more.' It's just simply not acceptable to us as a government," said McNeil.

The service provider recently informed its rural customers in southwestern Nova Scotia that their data usage would be capped at 15 gigabytes per month, with a $2 fee charged for each additional gigabyte up to a maximum of $20.

The company said in an email statement Thursday that the cap is intended to address Internet traffic and provide equal access to the service for better overall broadband Internet.

McNeil said the government doesn't have the ability to override Eastlink's plan as it is a private sector company. He said the province is looking at all options to improve Internet service for Nova Scotians living in rural areas, including reaching out to Eastlink's competitors.

Eastlink is part of a 2007 government contract intended to deliver high-speed Internet to everyone in the province by 2009.

But the Business Department said Thursday the government has spent $18.9 million on the initiative and there's still well over 1,000 Nova Scotians with limited or no Internet access.

Eastlink said the Internet service outlined in that contract was designed for basic Internet needs like email, general web browsing and social media. The company said it was never intended for high volumes of video streaming, which bog down the system.

But McNeil called that "a ridiculous statement."

"When you're in the business of customer service you continue to invest in your infrastructure to ensure that you keep pace with what's happening in Nova Scotia or in the world," said McNeil.

McNeil, who lives in the Annapolis Valley, said the Internet service at his home is not great, although he added that he is not an Eastlink customer. He said he's not able to watch Netflix and 10 to 15 minute videos will often freeze three or four times.

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