Rural broadband is more than just a convenience. It is a necessity for economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life. Like many rural municipalities in Alberta, Red Deer County has been facing challenges in accessing reliable and affordable internet services. To address this problem, the county is taking matters into its own hands by creating its own broadband network.
The county’s rural broadband journey began in 2019 with a small rest area named Junction 42 — an area five minutes south of Gasoline Alley on the Queen Elizabeth II highway. After being quoted millions of dollars to service the area by a for-profit provider, the county decided to build its own fibreoptic network.
“Putting in broadband is no different than putting in water, sewer, roads. What’s one more service?” said Dave Dittrick, Assistant County Manager for Red Deer County.
Partnering with the Town of Penhold and the hamlet of Springbrook, the county began developing a fibre triangle between Springbrook, Junction 42, and Penhold with an initial $500,000 commitment.
Since then, the county has invested $20 million in the network and is looking to secure another $10 million from the Universal Broadband Fund to finish the network. The vision is to provide highspeed internet to every home and business in its jurisdiction, as well as to support the growth of other economic development initiatives. The broadband program will offer network speeds of up to 200 megabits per second, quadrupling the federal minimum threshold.
The county has partnered with Paintearth County, the Village of Delburne, and EQUS, a rural electrical service provider, to form a municipally controlled corporation that will operate and expand the broadband network. The corporation will be member-owned, non-profit, and open to any rural municipality that wants to join.
“Our intent is to be a wholesaler, not a retailer. So further opportunities are available.”
Red Deer County is not alone in its pursuit of rural broadband. Other rural municipalities across Alberta are also exploring ways to improve their internet connectivity and create opportunities for their residents and businesses. Rural broadband is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity for innovation and collaboration among rural communities.
“We’re servicing everybody, and I think that’s the key message that we’re trying to convey through this municipally controlled corporation. It’s going to be for residents, for rural residents by rural residents, and we’re not going to forget who we’re working for.”