This First Person article is the experience of Sarah Jestin, who lives in Caledon, Ont. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
“Mom, this is taking forever to load.”
“Mom, FaceTime isn’t working. Again.”
“Mom, the internet’s soooooo slow.”
“Mom, like, why did we have to move to the middle of nowhere?”
Actually, we’re not in a remote area. Far from it. We’re in Caledon, Ont., a town in the Greater Toronto Area — the most populous region in Canada and just 45 minutes from Pearson International Airport.
But this is the reality of internet and phone coverage in Canada.
We decided to move in 2013 because we wanted more nature than we could get in the Toronto suburb of Brampton. We found our dream property in the next town over: a cosy open-concept house large enough to accommodate our non-minimalist tastes, and a yard that came with mature trees and a pond. The commute from our rural property to work in Mississauga was 45 minutes and we were five minutes away from the town centre. The proximity to Brampton also meant we could still access our shopping haunts without having to mount an expedition every time we needed to go to Canadian Tire or Home Depot.
We knew some things would change: Our water now comes from a well, and we have a septic tank. The hydro lines aren’t buried, so during ice storms or high winds, we’re more likely to have power outages, but nothing a power generator can’t fix the rare times it happens.
What we didn’t expect was the lack of reliable internet access.
We were shocked to learn that the only internet option was satellite and that it had only been made available recently. “Two years ago, we had no internet at all,” the previous owner told me during our visit just prior to taking possession of the place.
A mere five-minute drive to Caledon East, where both Rogers and Bell are available, how can that be possible? We checked with both companies, because, of course, that nice lady had to be mistaken.
She was not.
A few years earlier, we had divested ourselves from our landline and were on voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP), for which internet access is needed. In Brampton, with cable, we didn’t have any issues. In Caledon, on satellite, things were not so smooth. The exchange of data between the satellite and our receiver created a delay to the point where people would simply hang up, thinking there was no one on the line. We managed a few excruciating conversations with family and friends before giving up.
Compared to the price of VoIP, a landline was expensive, so we eventually opted for a more reasonably priced cell phone plan, only to discover that cellular reception was tenuous at best: we had to be outside to get a signal. Even in August, it got old really fast. Imagine how it felt in winter.
We got a booster, which helped quite a bit, but we still had to pick where we stood in the house to make calls. That slow data exchange also meant that when I worked from home, I had to plan carefully to ensure I didn’t have big documents to download or upload.
In 2014, we rejoiced: a digital subscriber line (DSL) became available (but not cable. To this day, we still can’t get cable internet service) and while we didn’t get the promised 5 MB speed, we finally had a stable connection. Things loaded slowly over the bare 1 MB we had, but they loaded.
Then the pandemic hit.
Two people working full time, at the same time, on 1 MB of speed. Saying some days were frustrating is an understatement. We couldn’t both be in video meetings at the same time, and we’d turn off our cameras. Work computers also have the habit of starting background updates at the most inopportune times, such as the middle of the work day. When that happened, we couldn’t do anything as the updates took up the entire bandwidth.
At that point, my daughter had already moved out, so we were spared the agony of never-ending whining when it came to online schooling (or online anything, for that matter). Whenever we’d mention our challenges, her reply was, “Well, it’s on you! I’m in the city, my internet is normal.“
Then in June 2021, our modem died. It was promptly replaced with a new one, but it turned out that the lines are so old that they don’t work very well with the new modems. Our speed was at half the previous one, so it was no longer viable. In July, we got robust cellular data plans and connected via hotspot. We also needed to get an antenna and another type of booster — and finally, we generally had 5 MB of download speed.
Oh, and the cell phone reception? It was a lot better with that new antenna, but calls would still occasionally drop: I once hung up twice on my doctor during a phone consultation. I thought we were on a roll!
Then something inexplicably changed in 2022 and we had to constantly reorient the antenna as the signal became erratic. That meant my husband was up on the roof, trying different directions while I was inside to test the speed and would then run back outside to tell him “yea” or “nay.” Of course we couldn’t simply call each other because one phone had to be inside, close to the receiver for speed testing.
By the end of the year, we were down to speeds of 2-to-3 MB.
Despite all these frustrations and the fact that my daughter acts like our slow internet scarred her for life, we never regretted moving here. We have a pond that attracts wildlife, we have trees around us, and during the pandemic lockdowns, we didn’t get stir crazy or cabin fever. For us, it was worth the hassle, and I couldn’t imagine leaving our slice of paradise.
Thankfully, in January, we were able to get a newer, much more efficient satellite option through the American company Starlink. After 10 years, we finally have reliable internet.
What irks me is that we had to go outside of Canada to get it.
Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here’s more info on how to pitch to us.