Alberta Broadband Strategy aims to close the digital divide by 2026

Today, Premier Jason Kenney and Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish released the long-awaited Alberta Broadband Strategy 2022: connecting Albertans, growing the economy. Cybera was pleased to see many of the initiatives we have previously advocated for in the new strategy, which we believe are necessary to create vital connectivity links in the province.

The strategy is intended to address the biggest barriers to accessing high-speed internet in rural, remote, and indigenous communities in Alberta. It proposes a number of funding, regulatory, and technological solutions to reach universal connectivity in the province. 

At the heart of the strategy is an investment of $390 million over four years by the Government of Alberta – with a matching $150 million from the federal government in the first year – to support broadband projects in underserved communities. The funding will support the province’s goal of having nearly 100% of Alberta’s population connected to internet services that meet the CRTC’s basic service objective of 50/10 Mpbs by 2026. The government has also committed that they expect shovels in the ground this construction season, with announcements of the first of four rounds of project phases occurring this spring.  The money allocated for these projects will be administered through the federal government’s existing Universal Broadband Fund, a $2.75 billion program launched in 2020 to fund rural broadband deployment.

To meet the universal connectivity goals, the provincial broadband strategy recognizes different technological solutions to address the hierarchy of geographic challenges throughout Alberta. While fibre-to-the home solutions will be prioritized in areas where there is sufficient population density, in areas where distances between dwellings is larger, the government will look to fund fixed-wireless solutions. In the most rural and remote areas of Alberta, i.e. with the lowest population densities and most challenging terrain, the government will look to Low Earth Orbit (e.g. Starlink and Telesat) satellite solutions at the later stages of the strategy’s window.

In addition, the Alberta Broadband Strategy identified advocacy and policy reform as important focus-areas for the province. Most notably, the strategy outlines a number of proposed changes to spectrum regulation, under the jurisdiction of the federal government. These include:

1. Better delineating spectrum service areas so rural areas are not included in urban regions.

2. Strengthening and enforcing a “use or lose it” framework for spectrum licensing.

3. Ensuring policies discourage the acquisition and resale of spectrum as a financial asset.

In the press conference announcing the strategy, Minister Nate Glubish indicated the Government of Alberta would work closely with other provinces to advocate for such policy changes with the federal government, along with increases in matched funding through the Universal Broadband Fund.

Cybera is pleased to see many of our advocacy priorities reflected in the government’s broadband strategy, including a number of recommendations proposed in our 2021 update of the State of Alberta Digital Infrastructure Report.  As outlined in the report, we believe a multi-pronged approach is needed to address the digital divide in Alberta, specifically through leveraging technology, funding and policy reform. This includes new funding programs for rural broadband deployment, policy changes to spectrum and wholesale regulation, and leveraging technologies such as Low Earth Orbit, among many other proposals. 

Cybera and the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition will actively engage with the Government of Alberta and the Ministry of Service Alberta as they implement Alberta Broadband Strategy 2022. We also look forward to discussing this strategy with Minister Glubish when he attends the Rural Connectivity Forum May 17-18 from Sylvan Lake.