MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - After releasing the province's new high-speed internet broadband strategy last week along with more funding to roll it out, officials are set to make a further announcement tomorrow.
Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish and federal Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings are expected to make an announcement on improving high-speed internet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 9, according to a media notice issued today.
The province announced last week that it plans to spend $390 million over the next four years to support the implementation of the Alberta Broadband Strategy (ABS).
The strategy will leverage both provincial and federal public funding with private investment, with options ranging from fibre to fixed wireless to low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, said Glubish during the March 2 announcement.
No details were released as to what tomorrow's announcement would be.
Mountain View County Reeve Angela Aalbers says the new provincial-federal funding announced last week to enhance and improve broadband connectivity in rural Alberta is welcomed and needed.
“The recent funding announcement of an additional $240 million funding for rural broadband is great news, and the rural broadband strategy that has just been released is even better news,” said Aalbers.
“The strategy recognizes the issues rural Alberta, and Mountain View County, have been advocating for. Rural has been a low priority for private investment due to the infrastructure challenges as well as the lower customer base.
“We believe this will be a game changer for our rural residents, businesses and the agriculture community who continue to optimize their operations though advancements in technology.”
Aalbers, who lives in a rural area of the county, says she has personal experience with low connectivity.
“I did a speed test this morning (March 4) and I am only able to get 0.4Mbps upload and 4.1Mbps download at my home west of Sundre,” she said.
Alberta’s total broadband funding commitment is $390 million, including the province’s previous $150 million investment in 2021, a federal commitment to match $150 million, with the provincial government continuing efforts to secure a matching agreement for an additional $240 million, he said.
In response to a question from the Albertan during a press conference on March 3, Glubish acknowledged that improved internet connectivity is vital to rural Alberta.
“The agriculture community in Alberta has the potential to benefit enormously from increased connectivity,” said Glubish. “Ag tech is extremely exciting and the kinds of things we will be able to accomplish in Alberta, in the Alberta agriculture community. With more connectivity the sky is the limit in terms of what Alberta farmers will be able to accomplish.”
The ABS will “ensure that every family, household, business and community in Alberta can access reliable, high-speed internet,” he said.
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen told the Albertan that the new funding will benefit rural community projects in the district.
“It’s unlocking business opportunities,” said Dreeshen. “Whether it is agriculture and the big data that goes along with it to other businesses that rely on high-speed internet. It really unlocks that potential, especially in rural areas.
“Albertans living in rural areas need access to reliable internet to further their businesses and interact online.”
Dreeshen said, “There are some really good projects that are happening locally with EQUS, which is looking at being kind of the highway for actually putting in the infrastructure for internet service and then allowing any carrier, anybody that wants to use that highway, to be able to retail it and get it out to homes.
“EQUS is looking to see if they can get some of this funding and approvals to be able, as an REA (rural electrification association) not only to provide electricity but also high speed internet in rural areas as well.
“It’s great to see local groups that have grabbed the bull by the horns and are increasing internet across the area. They are looking forward to seeing how they can get a piece of this $390 million funding to expand it.”
EQUS is headquartered in Innisfail and is the largest member-owned utility in Canada.
The UCP government is still not doing enough to meet the demand for better rural connectivity in Alberta, says NDP Service Alberta critic Jon Carson.
“The digital divide has grown during the pandemic and rural Albertans are being left behind,” Carson said in a statement provided to the Albertan.
“We can’t sit back and rely on the federal government to solve this issue. Albertans can’t trust the UCP to deliver on this important issue.”
Enhancing and improving connectivity in rural communities is vital to the overall Alberta economy, says Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, and Cathy Heron, president of Alberta Municipalities.
“Rural Alberta needs access to high-speed internet to enable communities and residents to continue to support local economies and connect for needed services,” said McLauchlin.
Reeve Aalbers says going forward Mountain View County will “continue our lobby efforts to ensure that the projects being put forward include our area. The county will continue our efforts to meet with Minister Glubish to reinforce why we believe we are a priority for investment.”