A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rural Satellite TV

Regular readers will know I have written extensively over the last year about the loss of broadcast TV in rural areas and it still seems counter productive to provide OTA digital TV in urban areas where it is readily available inexpensively via cable but not in rural areas where the only alternative is the more expensive satellite TV solution. Shaw Direct has provided a solution however so long as you apply before November for their Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program. 

I first became aware of this program via the TVO web page detailing all the transmitters being shut down. It says:-

If you live in one of these markets and have been relying on television from over the air signals, you may be able to continue to receive TVO courtesy of Shaw Direct by applying for their Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program.  For more information visit SHAWDIRECT.CA/DTV.

Over to Shaw where it says:-
If you haven't been a cable or satellite customer in the last 90 days, you may be eligible for the Local Television Satellite Solution (LTSS) program.* This program will allow you to continue receiving the same or similar Canadian over-the-air channels you've always enjoyed courtesy of Shaw Direct.
Please call one of our service representatives before November 30, 2012 at 1.888.782.7602 to see if you qualify.

Having applied and been “approved” I now know that one must sign a waiver with a few conditions including not having had “been a subscriber to any Cable, IPTV or Satellite TV provider within the
last 90 days“ and detailing the channels that you have lost (although the form assumes the loss of certain stations in your area and pre-prints them for you).

You also “agree to become a Shaw Direct LTSS subscriber. Shaw Direct will provide you with a receiver and basic installation at no charge in order to provide your household with local programming. The receiver will be able to meet the technical needs of the channels we are providing. The receiver will also be considered to be your property. The programming will consist of local programming feeds from within your geographic region. This programming will be provided to you at no cost. New customers to this program are only permitted from May 31, 2011 until November 30, 2012. If we have not received this form signed within this time, we will be unable to provide this solution.”

All in all it just took that phone call, was hassle free, totally without cost, installation and receiver included and we now have 9 or 10 'local channels' including CTV, CBC, GLOBAL, TVO which is about all we really need. Thanks Shaw, I am sure up the road you will be 'encouraging' us to get the 'pay for' channels (and by all accounts all that now takes is a phone call to Shaw Customer Service) but for now we are quite happy and impressed with your promotional LTSS program.

Lost your broadcast TV? Give Shaw a call, it seems too good to be true but thus far we have seen no hidden problems or costs.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Womens Institute releases Rural Voices Report.

Regular readers will know that I have been supportive of the WI's RVN project and have written both here, on their forum and directly to them about how an on line rural forum would benefit rural communities, and suggested what form it could or should take. I have been waiting to see the results of their survey since it completion in May and SOME results have now been released in the form of a Management Report.

Unfortunately said report is not very forthcoming and only details the top 5 responses in a limited number of areas of interest. We are told that a “Detailed Report” is available, however upon inquiry we were told that “The only information being released at this time is the promised Management Report and the poster.” and that “Any additional details are not being released as they will be used to assist with sourcing  additional grants.”  Huh? I am not sure how withholding data from a pubic survey of 'rural stakeholders” from those self same “stakeholders” can enhance a future grant application.

They also say that “ the budget limited quantitative and qualitative analysis in all areas and on all variables”. I understand that such limitations may preclude academic and scholarly “analysis” but as one who distrusts such “analysis” without seeing the raw data from which is was drawn I feel that perhaps this whole process and report is focused far too much on possible grants for some academic to analyze the results rather than sharing with those who participated and those who could use the data to move forward with practical initiatives. Let us “analyze” the results for ourselves!

One thing does become clear from the report and that is that the survey is biased by the type of respondent, this is no fault of the project creators, any such 'survey' is biased. An on line survey such as the one at the end of this article is biased towards those that are on line and are inclined to answer such things, in this case it was biased towards members of the WI and those already involved in their community and thus were aware of the project or were sent a survey by mail. This resulted in a predominance of older ladies responding (hardly a surprise give that it is a Women's Institute project) which is one of the few pieces of hard data shared in the report. This obviously affects the results. 

As readers will know if they have read my previous posts about this I was mainly interested and highly supportive of the stated goal of creating a “Web portal designed to foster a living ‘Rural Voices Network’ to facilitate community engagement and collaboration through online forums.” The survey was, in part, to determine how viable this goal was and how to proceed with it. I do not see the lack of funding as a major impediment to moving forward with such a 'portal' using volunteers to do both the initial installation and the subsequent moderation, although deciding upon the format and the software may be much more of a challenge. There is little or nothing said regarding this item, which to my mind is one of the major keys to rural communication and thus enabling discussion and 'engagement' in the community. There is an “existing web portal for further online engagement of rural citizens” on the RVN site but it is less than stellar and far less user friendly and functional than what I had in mind.

I will not go into the few results they have published, you can read the report for yourselves. I do note however that “As with the lack of information, younger residents rated a lack of communication networks as being more of a barrier than did older residents.” and it is the younger folks who we have to engage! I will however comment upon some of the conclusions made. The featured recommendations highlighted here are small extracts of the full text.

Recommendation #1:
In order to communicate with rural people, stakeholders and policy-makers may need to reduce their reliance on buzzwords and jargon.

Agreed, however it is not a matter of talking down to “rural people” but more a problem with academics and consultants using flowery language to justify their work when simple and concise language is usually far more precise.

Recommendation #2:
This data holds knowledge that could potentially lead to better-informed policy. Carefully planned analysis of this data, aligned with the goals of the RVN project, may provide insights to the current situation of rural residents.....

By all means 'analyze' the data but do not 'spin' it to “align with the goals of the RVN project”. Let others also see and use the raw data and detailed report and make their own conclusions.

Recommendation #3:
..... continued engagement with those individuals, organizations and communities that have made connections with the RVN project should be ensured by encouraging the continuation of the conversation


Recommendation #4:
More and stronger connections need to be made:.........
A means of facilitating these types of connections and fostering potential relationships – through a workshop or conference, for example – should be investigated.

Whilst 'workshops or conferences' may be useful they are limited by location, who is invited, who can attend and similar factors. An ON LINE forum is much wider in its availability and is a continuous process. Both are reliant upon interested citizens being aware of them so that they can make those 'connections'.

Recommendation #5:
Although this knowledge is valuable to have, in order for it to have real worth, this knowledge should be acted upon. The RVN project committee should find a method and means by which this information can be put into productive use. The implementation of this knowledge may take any of a number of forms ranging from a simple dissemination of the information to developing a series of public forums.

The single biggest 'action' that the RVN can take to make productive use of the knowledge gained through this project is to SHARE it. The same limitations that apply to conferences also apply to public forums.

Having waited for some time to see if the results of this survey would shed any light upon how well an on line forum would be received, but not being a recipient of any information in that regard, I now will move on and be seeking to create such a web presence privately. Build it and they will come will be my mantra. We MUST get a dialog going, even as I write I learn of more rural communities being gutted of their schools and inundated with industrial wind farms to feed the urban appetite for “clean” power. Neither of which rural resident have ANY control over!

Anyone, individual or rural organization interested in helping should contact me ASAP.

Please visit and fill out the survey I created to try and get a better idea of rural online availability and use.. Just 6 questions and results WILL be shared. Click here to see the survey.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meet Enbridge's friend Dil Bit

The following statement was made by Miranda Holmes at the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel hearings into the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline in Comox, BC.
Many voices have been heard during these hearings, yet one has remained silent: the oily character at the centre of the debate. I think that’s a shame and so I am using my time before the panel to allow this character’s case to be made.

Hi, my name’s Dil Bit. That’s short for Diluted Bitumen, but I feel like I’m amongst friends here, so let’s not be too formal.

I come from the tar sands and, as you know, Alberta totally digs me. Alberta’s so generous she wants to share me with everyone.

If she gets her way, I’ll be passing through British Columbia a lot in the future, so I thought I should introduce myself properly.

As fossil fuels go, I’m a bit unconventional. But, as Alberta’s favourite son Steve will tell you, I’m totally ethical. (And don’t let those jet setting celebrities tell you any different.)

I’m also way better than conventional crude oil.

For instance, my total acid concentrations are up to 20 times higher than conventional crude. My sulphur content is up to 10 times higher and I’m up to 70 times thicker. Pretty impressive, eh?

Yeah, it’s true I can be a bit abrasive. Bits of quartz, pyrite, silicates, sure I carry them around. It’s just the way I’m made.

So conventional crude doesn’t have my grit. So what? No need to point out, like those granola eaters at the Natural Resources Defense Council did, that putting me in a pipeline is “like sandblasting the inside of the pipe.”

I don’t know why the Americans have taken against me, because – like so many of them – I pack some serious heat. Thanks to my true grit and my thickness (I like to think of it as strength), I make pipes hotter than conventional crude - and harder to monitor. In fact, pipelines carrying me are16 times more likely to leak.

See? I told you I was better.

I’m Alberta’s most precious resource. You think she and Steve are going to let just anyone transport me? No way.

For my travels through British Columbia, they’re going to use Enbridge, a fine, upstanding company with an excellent track record. Why, it took Enbridge 10 years to spill half as much oil as the Exxon Valdez. And they didn’t just spill it in one spot – they spread it around.

Regulators in the US thought the three million litres of me Enbridge spilled in Michigan was so funny they compared the company to those great comedy characters the Keystone Kops.

If Enbridge maintains its current success rate it should be able to meet Steve’s federal standards, which allow undetected pipeline leaks of less than 2% of capacity per week.

For the Northern Gateway project that means Enbridge could legally leave 11 million litres of me a week behind on my way to Kitimat without getting into any serious trouble. And why should they? Eleven million litres of me would be more than three times funnier than Michigan, right?

That’s good news for me, because I’ve heard there are some mighty pretty places in northern BC and I think it would be a shame not to get to know them better.

And it’s good news for BC, because your premier’s promising lots of jobs out of oil and gas exports, and cleaning up after me will sure keep people employed.

Sorry if any of the spots I’m going to wreck is one of your favourites, but I’ve got to keep Alberta happy. You know what she’s like. 

Miranda Holmes is a former journalist who spent a decade working on toxics and genetic engineering for Greenpeace and other environmental organizations in Canada and the UK.