WHEREAS broadband is recognized as an essential utility by communities and jurisdictions throughout the world; and
WHEREAS many rural, remote, and northern communities in Canada continue to be unserved or underserved by internet service providers; and
WHEREAS internet service in rural, remote and northern communities is slower, has less bandwidth and is more expensive than services in urban centres; and
WHEREAS many jurisdictions are implementing programs and initiatives that leverage network-based technologies to strategically improve services to residents, enable businesses to become globally competitive, incubate a knowledge workforce and enhance social capacity; and
WHEREAS the success of these communities is reliant upon the availability of high speed, high capacity bandwidth internet connectivity;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that the governments of Alberta and Canada declare broadband an essential service; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that the governments of Alberta and Canada provide direct funding and support to rural, remote and northern communities to ensure affordable access to, or the development of, high speed (100 Mbps and faster) community network infrastructure; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge Government of Canada develop a national broadband strategy; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that rural municipalities, internet service providers, education and health professionals, public safety organizations, and research and economic development authorities be actively involved in preparing the National Broadband Strategy.
Despite different provincial and federal programs, many rural, remote and northern communities (RRNC) remain unserved or underserved in terms of access to high-speed internet. With vast geographical expanses and low population densities, internet service providers (ISPs) do not have a business case to invest in these communities. Residents and businesses in RRNC with internet service often contend with slower speeds and pay higher costs for service than their urban counterparts.
Access to high-speed, high capacity internet service at an affordable price is vital to facilitate local economic development and for the provision of cost-efficient and effective public services. It is crucial that RRNC have the mobile networks, broadband connections and open data platforms that allow stakeholders to advance their individual needs and for the betterment of the community at large. Increased broadband speed with high capacity will help existing local businesses grow and become participants in the digital economy. Unfortunately, policy discussions on broadband have been focused on increasing access, not investing in and leveraging broadband for economic, social and community development.
High-speed, high capacity broadband also enables all levels of government to deliver public services in the most financially responsible manner. Governments need higher bandwidth to serve evolving video, image, data and voice requirements to provide the numerous services residents expect.
The 2016 federal budget announced a new $500 million program for rural and remote community broadband funding over the next five years with an uninspiring and unambitious target of 5 Mbps down/1 Mbps up. With the rapid advancements in information and communications technology (ICT), changing patterns in internet consumption such as video streaming and increased utilization and movement of data packets, the identified targets will leave Canada in a compromised position globally. With broadband consumption growing at annual rates up to 50%, and a failure to invest in and support a robust broadband network, we will continue being internet viewers rather than broadband contributors and innovators in the digital economy.
A recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states “Canada has amongst one of the world’s slowest Internet speeds (ranking 33rd) and highest costs around the world” (August 15, 2013). Further, from 2002 to 2012, Canada fell from 2nd to 13th for wired broadband connections. Without a deliberate and focused broadband strategy, people without 21st century broadband will be left behind; it will come at a significant cost. The digital divide and the inequity between RRNC and their urban counterparts’ access to internet will create the new disenfranchised underclass.
Many jurisdictions have made substantial investments in broadband recognizing the enormous benefits that will be derived. While many of these have high population densities, looking at Australia with a population density of 3.1 people/square kilometer and their commitment to broadband and comparing it to Canada which has a population density of 3.6 people/square kilometer illustrates the lack of commitment made in this country.
In 2009, Australia announced a commitment to build the National Broadband Network (NBN) – (US $44.1 billion) extending high-speed optical fiber directly into the homes, schools, and workplaces of 93 percent of Australians. A 2013 report concluded that the NBN would provide job opportunities, time savings, and other benefits worth, on average, AU $3800 (US $3600) per household per year by 2020. The cost was approximately AU $1900 per household. Although polls showed that the majority of voters supported the project, after the 2013 election the initiative was scaled back but still brings fibre optics to all new developments.
3-15S: Review of Alberta SuperNet Agreement with Axia SuperNet Ltd.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request that Service Alberta not renew the Axia SuperNet Ltd. agreement until a complete examination of how the Alberta SuperNet can be managed in such a way as to promote a cost competitive, reliable, sustainable and Alberta-based solution for fibre optic internet services which meets the increasing demand for high speed internet service within the Province of Alberta with sufficient emphasis to rural connectivity.
DEVELOPMENTS: The Government of Alberta is currently in the process of developing an RFP for a new SuperNet operator when Axia’s contract expires in 2018. As part of this process, Service Alberta has engaged the AAMDC and other stakeholders to better understand the current weaknesses of the SuperNet in connecting public sector institutions and supporting the development of rural broadband connectivity.
Because Service Alberta has acknowledged flaws in the current SuperNet and challenges in how it is operated by Axia, and has expressed a commitment to improving SuperNet in the future, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Principle, and will be reviewed when a new operating agreement is signed.
8-14F: Improvement of High-Speed Internet Services in Rural Alberta
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties lobby the Government of Alberta to make the investments necessary to improve high-speed internet services in rural Alberta.
DEVELOPMENTS: The Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada are currently in the process of administering several programs intended to improve high-speed internet service in rural Alberta.
The Government of Alberta is in the process of developing an RFP to seek a new SuperNet operator when the current contract with Axia expires in 2018. Service Alberta has worked with the AAMDC and other stakeholders to identify weaknesses with SuperNet, and are committed to improving it through the new operating agreement.
Alberta Economic Development and Trade are currently undertaking a joint project with the University of Alberta to develop an educational resource for municipal officials in rural and small urban municipalities that will consolidate relevant regulatory, funding, and technical information to assist them in taking local steps to improve broadband access in their communities.
In the 2016 federal budget, the Government of Canada committed $500 million over five years to improve rural broadband access and connectivity to the digital economy. Details of the program are not yet available, but funding is expected to start flowing in late 2016 or early 2017.
Both the provincial and federal government are taking steps to improve rural internet service. However, all of the strategies and programs described above have yet to be completed, and their effectiveness is not yet known. As the final product has not shown any improvements at this time, this resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met, and will be revisited as these programs progress.
Service Alberta (SA) is supportive of the main principles in Resolution 3-17S and continues to be the voice of Albertans to the federal government on the need for a National Broadband Strategy.
Our government is working to make life better for Albertans, and understands the importance of access to government services and improved internet. While most Albertans have access to some basic internet services, the government is fully aware of the internet challenges facing rural Alberta, such as increased demand, speed, and performance expectations. We have been listening and actively working with stakeholders, including Alberta municipalities and the federal government, to better understand these challenges and become part of the solution.
SA is also supportive with regard to establishing broadband as an essential service, but would note that the province does not have a role in this part of the resolution. The telecommunications industry is regulated federally, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established a new universal service objective on December 21, 2016, under Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-496:
“Canadians, in urban areas as well as in rural and remote areas, have access to voice services and broadband Internet access services, on both fixed and mobile wireless networks.”
The CRTC is also setting ambitious speed targets, and creating a fund that will invest up to $750 million over and above existing government programs, to support broadband infrastructure projects in areas that do not meet these targets. This funding is in addition to the Connect to Innovate federal broadband program, which received several Alberta applications for funding prior to the April 20, 2017, closing date. SA actively worked with municipalities and internet service providers (ISPs) on several applications.
We are encouraged to see the CRTC identifying broadband as a basic need for Canadians. In Alberta, we have clearly heard that rural leaders see broadband access as key to ensuring sustainable communities where businesses, youth, and local talent can thrive. While the CRTC has outlined preliminary views on their broadband policy and funding mechanism, they have also indicated that additional discussions are needed in 2017 to finalize these details. SA will be watching for final criteria to understand how Alberta communities can benefit, and what our government can do to support those efforts.
With the SuperNet operating contract expiring in 2018, our government has been looking at options for moving forward. We have considered the valuable stakeholder insights shared with us, and are positioning future contracts, such as SuperNet, to support broadband in rural Alberta, while also leveraging federal initiatives like the newly-announced CRTC broadband fund.
This government will be discussing our approach for the future of SuperNet and potential rural broadband supports in 2017. SA has committed to reaching out to both the AAMDC and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to ensure they are aware of our government’s direction, and to offer assistance in updating their members.
We have heard the AAMDC’s requests to engage with government, and will continue to communicate and work with our local governments as we move forward. SA supports Resolution 3-17S in advocating to the federal government that rural municipalities, ISPs, education and health professionals, public safety organizations, and research and economic development authorities should be actively involved in the preparation of any National Broadband Strategy.
Alberta Treasury Board and Finance:
The Alberta SuperNet is a broadband network that connects to rural and urban communities in the province. This network of fibre-optic cables and wireless connections reaches 429 communities across Alberta. Budget 2017 includes $31 million of funding for the SuperNet.
Increases to funding for broadband network support would need to be considered through the government’s budget development process.
The Government of Alberta response indicates broad support of the resolution’s call for increased action on the part of government and industry in enhancing rural broadband availability and quality. RMA is pleased with the direction that the Government of Alberta has taken to this point in prioritizing rural final mile connectivity in their development of a new SuperNet operating agreement. The Government of Alberta is currently in the process of developing a rural broadband strategy, and has convened an inter-ministerial working group to do so. In early 2018, RMA assisted Service Alberta in promoting a survey to members to gather baseline information on rural broadband service delivery. In the fall of 2018, Service Alberta gathered feedback from the RMA Board of Directors on the broadband strategy, including the strategy’s scope, implementation, oversight, and priority areas. Service Alberta also provide an update on the strategy to RMA members at the Fall 2018 RMA Convention. Service Alberta has indicated that formal information on the strategy will be released in early 2019, but at this point it has not yet been released.
At the federal level, RMA is pleased with the 2016 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) policy that declared broadband as a basic telecommunications service, which is the telecommunications equivalent of an essential service, and empowers the CRTC to implement programs, policies, regulations and initiatives to improve broadband in underserved areas. One such initiative being undertaken in relation to the basic service declaration is a $750 million fund to enhance broadband in rural areas, to be funded by industry. CRTC released details on the fund in fall 2018, and is now accepting its second round of funding applications. The fund will include an option for municipalities to apply for direct funding if they meet the eligibility requirements, including experience operating a broadband network. While this funding is welcome, the minimum speeds it seeks to achieve (50mbps download) is less than those called for in this resolution.
A second aspect of the CRTC’s declaration of broadband as a basic service was to increase the threshold for underserved areas from those with service below 5mbps download / 1mbps upload to 50mbps download / 10mbps upload. In their 2018 budget, the Government of Canada also announced that $100 million over five years has been dedicated to the Strategic Innovation Fund, will mainly be used to advanced low earth orbit satellite technology to improve broadband service in rural and remote communities. Further, the 2019 Government of Canada budget allocates $1.7 billion in new funding with the goal of all Canadians having access to 50mbps download and 10mbps upload speeds by 2030.
In July 2019, the Government of Canada released a national broadband strategy. The strategy addresses the connectivity gap rural communities face and includes information on how this will be addressed.
RMA welcomes the national broadband strategy, the Broadband Fund, and the basic service declaration. However, the speeds funded by the Broadband Fund are less than those called for in this resolution. Therefore, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Part. RMA will continue to advocate to Service Alberta for continued progress on a provincial broadband strategy.