Wheatland County is contracting with Tricon Solutions in an effort to develop and implement improved broadband access for industry, residential and business purposes.
Currently in its initial stages, the project has thus far undertaken a review of the state and context of previous local broadband efforts within the county.
A report on the project, presented to county council on June 1, stated that several broadband vendors currently service the county. The report allowed councillors to understand these companies future plans in the area, as well as to develop a holistic view of current local infrastructure.
County Reeve Amber Link said at this point in the project, it’s about understanding what needs to be done in order to improve the quality of services.
“Our entire council has heard concerns from both ratepayers as well as industry about connectivity in the county,” she noted. “We hired Tricon to do some analysis and some market research on what’s available, what’s the demand, where are the gaps, those types of things.”
Link agrees that connectivity in rural Alberta isn’t up to par with that of urban centres, and it would make a noticeable difference to have stronger access to networks and services.
“I think if anything, the pandemic has certainly brought that to the forefront. We’ve seen more and more families who are depending on connectivity both for work, (and) also for education for their children, for health care, for social interaction.”
She added she believes improved broadband services is a key driver for economic development and is coming to be recognized by municipalities as a utility and a necessary service.
Link explained she has been involved in rural connectivity projects since shortly after her election and wants to continue exploring options for the county.
“It’s a dynamic situation because even the introduction of the low earth orbital satellite is changing the situation because I’m hearing more and more ratepayers have access to significantly increased speeds at what we as rural ratepayers would consider (to be) pretty reasonable rates,” she said.
The county is in a precarious position wherein they would prefer private industry to provide whatever services they are able and does not wish to infringe on their business practices.
Several nearby counties that have, or are currently, in the process of addressing broadband infrastructure needs were contacted to help Wheatland’s own development better understand possible approaches, solutions and lessons learned.
Counties contacted include Canmore, Spruce Grove, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Olds O-Net and Brooks.
Link added Wheatland County does recognize the need for quality broadband connectivity, just like any other infrastructure.
A draft of the Wheatland County broadband strategic plan is being finalized in preparation to be submitted to council. It is expected to be received during the July 6 regular meeting.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times