County of Paintearth updates on rural broadband initiative

County of Paintearth council members received an update on a broadband internet for rural areas at the regular council meeting on July 3. This followed the Connect Fibre cutting ceremony in Innisfail on June 24, which highlighted the efforts of Rural Connect Ltd. (Connect).

Connect, a municipally controlled corporation, was formed with member communities including Red Deer County, the County of Paintearth and the Village of Delburne. The MCC will manage and operate broadband infrastructure to bring open-access, community-owned high speed broadband to rural communities.

The final Connect document was executed on June 28,with the transition date set for July 1. The County of Forestburg plans to meet with the new board of directors in August with future build plans in the next fiscal quarter. “We are now shareholders of the company,” noted Paintearth Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Michael Simpson.

Simpson pointed out that Paintearth County would continue to engage with the province and local industry to highlight the new broadband partnership and the ability to deliver high speed broadband to support industrial projects at competitive rates. The goal would be to develop relationships that increase uptake rates and accelerate return on investment.

Although the project has been in the works for some time, CAO Simpson expressed that he looked forward to the next few years. “Now the actual race begins.”

A press release dated June 19 highlighted Connect’s vision to ensure that all rural Alberta residents, businesses and communities have access to a reliable high speed broadband network. Infrastructure assets from these counties and communities would be centralized under Connect, which would oversee the operation and expansion of the broadband network.

The open-access network would offer internet services through competitive retail service providers, ensuring affordability and choice.

Connect’s business model preserves community ownership and governance of the infrastructure and services while delivering the necessary quality and speed for rural communities. As Simpson noted, this contrasts with other models that involve partnering with private industry, which often results in less control and lower returns on investment for municipalities.

The initiative would represent a significant long-term economic development strategy for Paintearth residents and businesses.

“This is protecting our future,” said Coun. Terry Vokeroth, “and gives us the ability to control our destiny.”

The initiative aims to address the connectivity gaps in southeastern Alberta as identified in the Alberta broadband report. Southeastern Alberta is one of the most under-served areas for meeting the Canadian government’s universal service objective, which sets a minimum threshold of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed. “We do what we always have, we solve the problem ourselves,” said CAO Simpson.

Simpson acknowledged the Paintearth Economic Partnership Society (PEPS) for introducing this solution to their board in 2021, after over a decade of searching for a viable broadband solution and for building wireless towers and improving connectivity in outlying parts of the county.

“We will be keeping our focus on our own boundaries and prioritizing the municipality’s interests.” noted Simpson.

According to the CAO report several municipalities are monitoring the implementation of the model and may consider discussions with Rural Connect Ltd. about becoming shareholders if the business prospects look positive.

The broadband project began in 2019 when Red Deer County invested $20 million to provide high speed internet by 2024. At that time, Red Deer council reviewed a business plan for Rural Connect Ltd. to address the lack of private-sector investment from providers like TELUS and Shaw Communications.

Connect will deliver broadband services across the province, operating as a not-for-profit to maintain affordability. Excess revenues will return to the public sector shareholders, which are the participating municipalities.

Cheryl Bowman
Multimedia reporter
ECA Review

About the author

Cheryl Bowman

Cheryl spent most of her childhood in Stettler, growing up on a quarter section north of town. After graduating from Stettler Composite High School she moved to Calgary where she worked in various industries, attended The University of Calgary and raised a family.

She enjoyed volunteering and contributed in a variety of ways, such as writing articles for the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and covering charitable events as a photographer.

She moved back to Stettler in 2023 where she still has family.