The Alberta government announced a $150 million investment to expand and improve broadband internet services for Albertans living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities throughout the province.
Premier Jason Kenney, along with Minister of Service Alberta Nate Glubish, Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development and Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, Chief Billy Morin of the Enoch Cree Nation, and Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely made the announcement on Thursday, July 22.
“In a lot of our small towns we’ve seen houses fly off the shelves, some of the lowest householdings in some of our little towns are right now post pandemic, and no one is asking any questions but ‘How is the internet,’” Associate Minister Horner tells the Mail.
He says this is something not isolated to his Drumheller-Stettler riding, and adds the investment will have the “potential to change things in a big way” across the province.
The need for better rural broadband connectivity has been an ongoing topic of discussion at both the provincial and federal levels of government, and Horner says the COVID-19 pandemic really “shone a light” on several of the concerns rural residents face when trying to connect online.
“We had kids going to at-home, online learning, and the calls I took from school divisions and families who didn’t have reliable enough (internet), or fast enough, to come close to what the schools were asking of them,” Horner said.
Horner notes the investment will help rural life in a number of ways, including in the agriculture industry where many farmers use wireless internet connections from everything to operating machinery to controlling moisture levels in grain bins.
Although the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has set targets for internet speeds across the country--at 50 megabits per second for downloads, and 10 megabits per second for upload speeds--Horner says this is simply not the case in many rural areas.
He says he is “fortunate” to be so close to an internet tower, but even in his close proximity--of about a mile--he says his internet is “just good enough” to allow him to connect virtually over Zoom meetings and his internet speeds are much lower than the CRTC targets.
Currently no announcement has been made as to which projects will receive part of the $150 million funding. Horner says there are some 800 projects before the Universal Broadband Fund in the province and the provincial government will need to “dig through those closely.” Each project will need to maximize private investment, reach as many households and small businesses as possible, and come under some form of regional fairness or equality, though Horner notes the first two points may at times contradict the third.
Horner also notes no federal deal has been finalized at this time, but it has been in conversation for “quite some time,” and is confident of federal participation.
Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail