February 4, 2019 4:37 pm
Updated: February 4, 2019 4:57 pm

B.C. Highway 97 community taking the ‘Huawei’ to faster rural internet

While the clock is ticking on Canada's decision on whether or not to proceed with an extradition hearing for Meng Wanzhou, her telecom company Huawei is working to bring high-speed internet to a tiny B.C. community with a population of fewer than 300 people. Kristen Robinson reports.

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As the owner-operator of the local pizza joint and internet cafe in Lac La Hache, B.C., Rick Duncan knows how slow the online connection can be in the tiny Cariboo community between 100 Mile House and Williams Lake.

“It’s up and down depending on how many people are using it,” Duncan told Global News.

“If you’re in a hurry sometimes you have to wait for things to load.”

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But maybe not for much longer. ABC Communications is partnering with Huawei on a plan to test high-speed internet in the community using the Chinese telecom giant’s next-generation Massive MIMO rural broadband system. The technology delivers internet speeds of up to 100 megabits per second – more than double what people currently have access to in Lac La Hache.

“It’s exciting that they chose our town,” said Duncan, who owns the Red Crow Cafe.

READ MORE: Huawei looms large over U.S.-China trade talks

According to the 2016 census, Lac La Hache has a population of 258 and the area’s internet provider says the ‘unincorporated place’ along Highway 97 is the perfect fit for the Huawei pilot project.

“Lac La Hache has a relative dense population for a rural setting,” Sam Lewis of ABC Communications said.

“It’s an area that’s underserved and could use some higher speeds.”

Huawei says its technology is a low-cost solution for internet providers in remote communities like Lac La Hache.

“Homes connected to Massive MIMO technology will experience fewer latency issues and are capable of higher download and upload speeds,” Huawei Technologies Canada CEO Eric Li said in a press release.

“We were pretty surprised because it’s on the news all over the world,” added Duncan.

READ MORE: With security concerns and criminal charges – should Canada allow Huawei to operate in Canada?

Huawei is pushing forward with the trial to bring urban internet speeds to rural subscribers in B.C. even as it finds itself at the centre of a diplomatic firestorm.

“There are mixed feelings in town because of the politics with China,” Lac La Hache resident Georgina Lisoway told Global News.

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou remains under house arrest in Vancouver on $10 million bail. Her arrest last December on a U.S. extradition request alleging bank and wire fraud sparked an escalating feud – with China sentencing Abbotsford’s Robert Schellenberg to death for drug smuggling and detaining two other Canadians.

“The current issue going on between the three governments, the Chinese and Canadian and U.S. governments are best left for them to decide,” said Al Richmond, the Cariboo Regional District director for Lac La Hache.

“What we have here is technology, 4G LTE technology…it’ll bring real internet speeds and allow rural British Columbians to be on a more equal playing field with those in urban areas.”

WATCH: Coverage of Meng Wanzhou on Globalnews.ca

Cariboo Radio owner Robert Fry says faster internet would be a game changer for his online station after a slow connection forced him to spend $100,000 on a workspace outside of town.

“We’d save about $20 to $24,000 a year because we could move back to our studio in Lac La Hache.”

Richmond believes Huawei broadband could allow home-based businesses to grow and also boost the tourism sector in the rural area and business owners are on board.

“When we have people that stop here they won’t be frustrated trying to use their tablets and telephones while they’re having a pizza,” Duncan said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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