CALGARY -- As public safety measures have confined more Bragg Creek residents to work and learn at home, some in the area say they are frustrated with the quality of internet and cell service in the region.

The community is about 40 kilometres west of the City of Calgary and is known for its forests and trees.

“The beautiful mountains and the beautiful trees actually act as obstacles to the connection,” said Sisso El-Hamamsy, founder of Mage Networks, a local company that provides free wifi in the Bragg Creek shopping area.

He echoes the feedback some residents say they have heard from Internet and cellular providers, that terrain is partly to blame for patchy service.

However, they say the issues seem to have gotten worse with COVID-19.

Brian Robertson says he signed up with TELUS in March, 2019 but  the signal had nearly ground to a halt later that summer and has shown little improvement since.

“Now with the lockdown everything is exacerbated,” said Robertson.

“I have to be able to Skype with clients for work now as I have no other option, and we need to be able to connect with friends over video to maintain our sanity.

Cell phone tower

“The Internet didn't work for days at one point... My wife's business has suffered, as has mine.”

Sandy Smith is a photographer and relies on the Internet to send files and documents.

“(Some things that) would take me under three minutes in the city might take me six or seven hours here at home," Smith said.

Smith also does not receive a cell signal from her home off Highway 762.

“There’s been times where I have missed deadlines and had to lose hundreds or thousands of dollars on a job.”

Providers and the options

As of April 7, El-Hamamsy and Mage Networks have provided free wifi within the Hamlet of Bragg Creek in the central shopping parking lot.

He says his signal is available to residents who want to subscribe with a local company that uses unique technology to transmit Internet.

“Even if everyone in the area is on the network at the same time you will still be able to do a Netflix stream and a Zoom call at the same time.”

As for the major tell-comm providers, Xplornet and TELUS are the most common in the region.

Shaw does not provide home Internet to the region, and its cellphone service, Freedom Mobile, does not cover the area.

Rogers does not provide home Internet in Alberta.

Bell mobile customers rely on a shared tower with TELUS.

In a statement to CTV news, a TELUS spokesperson says that tower is new as of February, an investment worth $500,000.

“(It has) doubled the wireless capacity for TELUS and Bell customers in the area,” said Liz Sauvé.

“This investment from TELUS enhanced coverage along the highway between Bragg Creek and Calgary which enhances the safety of travel for motorists, as well as coverage for customers living in the east side of Bragg Creek including the Redwood Meadows subdivision and parts of the Tsuu T’ina First Nation,” continued the statement.

There has also been a remarkable surge in the use of the network, a 40 per cent increase in customers using high speed wireless internet, she said.

“To ensure we stay ahead of the increasing demand, in mid-March we began the engineering review to add even more capacity to our wireless sites supporting Bragg Creek, and expect that work will be complete and local customers will notice even faster speeds and greater capacity in the next few weeks.”

At the time of this writing, Robertson says he already began to notice an improvement in his service quality.

The MD of Rocky View County has commissioned Community Broadband Study, the latest update was heard by council on February 25.

Cole Nelson, manager of corporate business development said council will be further reviewing this.

At the same time, the Province of Alberta has an active Rural Internet Strategy that is looking at service quality to regions .

The CRTC has also launched the Broadband Fund Program to help with rural connections.

On its website it says it will aim to “close the digital divide” between rural an urban internet usage.

According to the minutes from the February meeting of Rocky View Council, Xplornet Communications Inc. has applied to that fund, with support from the Reeve and council.