Eighteen months and $2 million has transformed P.E.I.’s Island Tel from a small local telco to Atlantic Canada’s ISP of choice for e-commerce hosting.

The company’s staff recently expanded to 25 people and, thanks to infrastructure upgrades and DSL access province-wide, now offers five different types of service: Internet, e-commerce, convergent services, Internet content and applications and enterprise management.

“If you think about that, that’s a fairly interesting mix of skills and capabilities,” said Stephen Murray, manager of new services with Island Tel Advanced Solutions (ITAS), in Charlottetown, during a recent Internet World conference in Toronto. “Two and a half years ago, when I came there, there were only three people in the whole organization.” ITAS now hosts 85 per cent of all e-commerce sites in Atlantic Canada, he said.

P.E.I., because of its limited IT resources and high proportion of rural population, presented a number of challenges for the company’s access plans. In 1996, Murray said, there was no real economic development around the Internet, and e-business hadn’t even really been considered.

“It’s very densely populated in terms of land mass, but [the homes] are spread out. The use of IT in businesses and homes is low. This isn’t your typical downtown Toronto marketplace.”

Prior to ITAS’ expansion project, broadband services had already been implemented right across the island. Probably because of its size, it was the first jurisdiction in Canada to have broadband services from end to end, Murray said.

“Some people aren’t familiar with rural communities: there are still places in Canada that have party lines, more than one person on the line. Guess what that does when you get on the Internet with dial access? Nobody else can get on the phone.”

Rather than putting in place fibre technology to centrally deliver access, which might have been fairly easy to do because of it’s small size, the company opted to put DSL access in place across the island.

“We had the capacity to serve up to 200 customers a month, but what ended up happening is that we exceeded our ability to satisfy that capacity, and that was something that we really didn’t expect. Most of that was not people churning out of the dial access business – these were new people entering the market that we didn’t even recognize had a need (for access) up to that point,” Murray said.

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