WHEREAS all Albertans should enjoy equal access to high-speed internet services regardless of their geographic location; and
WHEREAS current high-speed internet options in rural Alberta are limited and are cost prohibitive in relation to urban centres; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta has made a significant investment in the SuperNet, which is intended to provide the infrastructure necessary for private sector providers to make high-speed internet services available 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.
Private internet service providers typically make investments where population numbers provide a reasonable return on investment. With lower population density in areas of rural Alberta, many of these areas are not ideal for private investors. Satellite internet is available in rural Alberta, but the costs are substantially greater. Wireless internet is not as common in rural areas, and is subject to terrain effects that limit coverage.
The SuperNet was implemented as a way of addressing access to high-speed internet in rural Alberta by creating a network of access points throughout the province. However, unless private companies choose to expand their service using the SuperNet infrastructure, high-speed options remain limited for rural residents. While schools, provincial buildings, and municipal offices have benefited from the SuperNet, rural residents have not seen the full benefits of this provincial investment.
The AAMDC has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Service Alberta: Currently, Service Alberta and Agriculture and Rural Development are working together, along with representatives from other key ministries, to review the opportunities to improve high-speed internet access in rural Alberta, both from a SuperNet perspective and in support of the Rural Economic Development Action Plan. These teams are working on solutions to address the unique circumstances surrounding rural internet service delivery.
We are aware that while 98 per cent access to basic levels of high-speed internet for Albertans was a beginning, it does not address the growing demands for quality, performance and price equity across the province.
The Government of Alberta will be moving forward with an open and competitive procurement process for a new SuperNet contract that will allow us to evaluate solutions that help address rural internet limitations. In the evaluation, we will include the opportunity to make telecommunications infrastructure in rural Alberta more accessible to rural communities.
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 has developed an RFP to seek a new SuperNet operator when the current contract with Axia expires in 2018 and is in the process of developing a new operating agreement to ensure that the SuperNet better supports both pubic sector connectivity and rural development. 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 has developed an educational resource for municipal officials in rural and small urban municipalities that consolidates relevant regulatory, funding, and technical information to assist them in taking local steps to improve broadband access in their communities.
The Government of Canada is currently accepting applications for the $500 million Connect to Innovate program intended to enhance middle- and final-mile infrastructure in rural Canada. The AAMDC expressed concern with some of the extent to which the program’s eligibility parameters reflect the challenges faced by Alberta. The impact that the program will have in Alberta will not be known until applications are evaluated and funding is distributed later in 2017.
In late 2016, the CRTC formally declared broadband as a basic telecommunications service. This declaration will result in the connection speeds for what I considered an adequately served household being raised from 5 mbps download / 1 mbps upload to 50 mbps download / 10 mbps upload, which places Canada’s expectations more in line with similar countries. Additionally, the CRTC plans to develop a $750 million industry-supported fund to enhance rural broadband. At this point, details of the fund have not been determined, but the AAMDC plans to provide input into the fund design and parameters.
As both the provincial and federal governments are undertaking policy and funding changes in an effort to improve rural broadband, this resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Principle, and will be re-evaluated based on the outcomes of these attempts.