RMA Issue Backgrounder – Municipal Role in Broadband Development
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This article is the fourth of a four-part series.
What are the roles of the provincial and federal government?
In Canada, the federal government is responsible for many aspects of regulating the internet, including managing spectrum. Innovation, Science and Economic Develop (ISED) is the Government of Canada ministry responsible for the Telecommunications Act, which governs how the broadcasting industry functions, including internet service providers (ISPs). In addition to ISED, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) operates as an arm’s length organization, providing administrative services such as allocating spectrum. The CRTC also serves as a tribunal, making decisions and issuing penalties related to breaches of telecommunications agreements.
The federal government also plays a significant role in setting goals and providing funding for broadband projects. This work primarily takes place within the Ministry of Rural Economic Development.
At a provincial level, the Government of Alberta (GOA), through Service Alberta, has engaged in a series of initiatives to encourage broadband development. In the early 2000s, the GOA built the SuperNet, which connects over 4,300 schools, hospitals, libraries, government, and municipal offices across Alberta to highspeed internet. More recently, the GOA released its provincial broadband strategy and accompanying $390 million in funding to support broadband projects.
Though both the provincial and federal government play significant roles in supporting broadband, the regulating power resides with the federal government.
How can municipalities become involved?
Municipalities can become involved in broadband development to varying degrees depending on local needs and capacity. Municipalities can become directly involved, such as Sturgeon County’s work to build a fibre network to serve residents and businesses. Red Deer County is also building a fibre network. Both of these examples involve a municipality partnering with an ISP to provide internet in their communities.
Some municipalities are involved in encouraging broadband development by purchasing communications towers for ISPs to collocate on. For example, Brazeau County and Ponoka County have both built towers for private ISPs to place equipment on to distribute internet wirelessly.
There is no single way municipalities can be involved in broadband development. The solution locally will depend on a variety of factors. The RMA is advocating for opportunities for municipalities to play a larger role in local broadband development in a way that does not download this responsibility to those who do not want it. As with many things, the RMA believes local solutions play a significant role in addressing the urban-rural digital divide.
Contact RMA Policy Advisor Warren Noga at warren@RMAlberta.com.