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January 27, 2023 Issues & Insights

Closing the gap on rural internet

The Province of Alberta is in the process of tackling current barriers to reliable rural internet.

The Alberta Broadband Strategy, an ambitious four-year project, has set out to provide quality high-speed internet access to Alberta’s rural, remote and Indigenous communities, with a goal of reaching 100 per cent connectivity by 2027.

“We all know that internet is no longer a luxury in this day and age — it’s a necessity,” said Federal Minister of Rural Economic Development Gudie Hutchings in a release in September.

“We need to close the connectivity gap and ensure that every nook and cranny of Alberta has access to reliable high-speed Internet.”

The first projects approved under this strategy were announced in September 2022, with more than 50 communities across Alberta lined up for broadband funding. At that time, 67 percent of rural Albertans and 80 percent of Indigenous communities were unable to access reliable internet at the speeds needed to work and learn from home.

The total cost of universal connectivity in Alberta is an estimated $1 billion. Currently, the provincial and federal governments are contributing $780 million towards this initiative.

“This funding will unlock a significant amount of private sector investment, and will be available to support Alberta-based broadband projects,” reads the Alberta Broadband Strategy webpage.

The greatest barriers to rural connectivity, the webpage states, include broadband access, affordability, and quality. Private investors have historically been reluctant to service areas with lower population density and greater distance from the network infrastructure in urban centres. Those factors also make high-speed internet less affordable for those communities.

The strategy aims to keep access affordable through its phased approach, and depending on specific community’s needs, technologies such as fixed wireless access, low earth orbit satellites, and fibre-to-the-home will be used to provide reliable internet.

“As broadband is deployed, investment must focus on solutions with strong and resilient networks that minimize potential outages, maintain consistency and provide high-quality services to Albertans,” as stated on the strategy webpage.

Construction on the first projects is set to begin this year. The province is currently evaluating the next round of potential projects.

The province reports that universal connectivity will lead to “up to $1.7 billion in annual GDP growth to Alberta,” as well as the creation of up to 1,500 jobs to complete the projects, and benefits including improved remote education and healthcare access.

More information on this initiative is available on the Alberta Broadband Strategy webpage.

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About the Author

Piper Whelan
Piper grew up on a purebred cow-calf operation in Southern Alberta, and she studied English and history at the University of Alberta and journalism at the University of King's College. She has written for industry publications for more than a decade and is currently the Digital Content Specialist for Alberta Beef Producers.

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