LAKELAND - Removing “digital disadvantages” in rural Alberta communities — including across the Lakeland area — where reliable broadband service is a concern, is the focus of a new $300 million project.
The plan will combine a $150 million contribution from the federal government with matching funds from the provincial government, and more investment is expected to follow.
The initial $300 million partnership was announced earlier in December by Alberta’s Minister of Service Nate Glubish and Federal Minister of Tourism Randy Boissonnault. The partnership is set to provide almost 200,000 Alberta residents across the province who are without adequate high-speed internet with enhanced broadband access. Services is set to begin as early as 2023, pending approved bids with potential service providers and community partners, including Indigenous leaders.
“Albertans living outside major urban centres have been at a digital disadvantage because of unreliable broadband, but we are building partnerships to end that, and today we're so much closer to a solution. Connectivity is on the horizon,” Glubis told rural media representatives.
The rollout of broadband services is an investment in the future of bustling communities across the province, says Paul McLauchlin, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta.
“This is an enabling investment. Partnership is the keyword,” said McLauchlin.
Currently, 80 per cent of Alberta's Indigenous communities and 67 per cent of rural households do not have adequate access to target internet speeds—according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
Although the project is very important, its execution will still take some time, says Glubish, who expects an additional $100 million to be contributed from the private sector as more information regarding the phases will roll out in the new year.
“There is an expectation that the private sector will participate with these projects—with skin in the game as well. It’s my belief we will see north of $400 million put to work in Alberta connectivity projects—as a result of this Canada and Alberta Broadband partnership,” said Glubish.
When the project has reached its goal, the total investment could be as high as $1 billion, said Glubish, however, infrastructure costs, private sector negotiations and responsible planning are going to take time. Most importantly, he said, the initial funding is a move in the right direction and the current relationship between the federal and provincial government allows for more partnerships to flourish.
“This $400 million-plus is not $1 billion, but this is an important first step…we know that there is not enough capacity to go out and spend a billion dollars in one or two years to solve those problems because there are limits in terms of supply chains, limits in terms of engineering expertise…the good news is that the agreement we signed leaves room for that future collaboration.”
The federal Minister of Tourism acknowledges the growing plans to contribute to building broadband services and the positive effects it will have on the tourism sector altogether.
“We all know that access to high-quality, high-speed internet is essential. Connectivity impacts all sectors of the economy, including – I would emphasize – our tourism sector,” said Boissonnault, adding that the commitment from the federal government is nationwide, part of the $2.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) developed in 2020.
While much of the service delivery will come in connection to increased fibre-optic lines, there are also plans to use satellite services to reach remote areas. A $600 million future satellite service investment is underway with Canadian company Telesat which intends to cover all areas in the future through the federally-funded program.
“We have authorized $600 million to be able to get part of Telesat satellite network that orbits the globe to make sure that those communities that can not be connected by fiber-optic are able to be connected through satellite internet.”
Moving forward, more information regarding the phases and broadband developments, including target areas, will be provided early next year.