Province, Feds partner to expand rural internet connectivity with matching grant program

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Written by ECA Review

Closing the digital divide is critical to ensuring that Alberta’s economic recovery reaches every home, business and community.

Rural communities will have the services they need to attract individuals and families who are looking for the flexibility of a small-town lifestyle while maintaining connections to urban centres.

To help accomplish this, Alberta’s government announced in July that it was committing $150 million toward expanded broadband in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

A new memorandum of understanding with the Government of Canada will see that $150 million is matched, dollar for dollar, by the federal government.

Nate Glubish, Minister of Service Alberta said, “Alberta’s government is committed to eliminating the digital divide. Solving the broadband problem requires all levels of government and the private sector to come together. Albertans living outside major urban centres have been at a digital disadvantage because of unreliable broadband, but we are building partnerships to end that and, today, we’re so much closer to a solution. Connectivity is on the horizon.”

The Canada-Alberta Broadband Partnership agreement sets the framework for collaboration between the two governments to select and move forward projects from the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), a federal program that supports high-speed Internet projects in rural and remote areas across the country.

Over the last several months, both governments have been reviewing Alberta applications for UBF funding and expect to begin announcing specific projects early in the new year. Albertans can look forward to having shovels in the ground in the 2022 construction season.

To completely bridge the digital divide, it is estimated that $1 billion of public and private funds will be required.

The governments of Alberta and Canada have agreed in the memorandum of understanding that if more joint funding becomes available, the existing agreement would be updated to reflect that commitment of additional support.

“High-speed internet service is essential to the success of everyone living and working in rural communities. Today’s announcement will bring reliable, high-speed internet access to underserved households in Alberta, helping create jobs, improving access to health care and online learning services, and keeping people connected to their loved ones. Our government has committed over $7.2 billion to ensure that all Canadians are connected to the internet and we will continue to make investments like these to help connect every Canadian,” said Gudie Hutchings, federal Minister of Rural Economic Development.

Currently, there are about 201,000 households in Alberta without access to high-speed internet.

Approximately 80 per cent of Alberta’s Indigenous households and 67 per cent of rural households do not have access to CRTC target speeds for Internet, which lags behind Canada-wide rates of 54.4 per cent and 65.2 per cent, respectively.

In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared broadband a basic telecommunications service and set targets to connect every Canadian home and business to minimum network speeds by 2030: 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

The total cost of expanding rural broadband internet to underserved areas of the province is estimated at $1 billion. Alberta’s government is working with the federal government and the private sector to share the cost.

In November 2020, the Government of Canada launched the UBF, now worth $2.75 billion.

 

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