New Alberta broadband support to address funding gaps

Last week, Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish announced the Alberta Broadband Fund, a $36 million allocation of funding to support broadband deployment in Alberta that will begin taking applications this fall. This funding is part of the province’s previously announced $390 million investment in Alberta broadband projects that is being matched by the federal government, for a total of $780 million. Critically, it appears to be addressing the eligibility gaps of the larger fund. 

As Cybera commented at the time of the March 2022 Alberta Broadband Strategy announcement, while a significant and welcome investment in rural broadband deployment, the funding plank of the strategy carried the potential to leave a large portion of Alberta communities behind. Because it is administered through the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund, and leverages only existing applications through that closed funding stream, any community that had not already submitted an application was ineligible for the “new” $780 million funding. 

Some of these more fortunate communities have started to receive funding award notifications. For example, last Friday, the federal government and Service Alberta announced $70 million in funding to 50+ rural communities, including Rimbey, Vulcan, and the Siksika Nation. This is in addition to over $53 million in funding already committed to broadband projects in Alberta through the Universal Broadband Fund. 

However, many Alberta municipalities have expressed frustration with the federal government’s criteria for who is eligible to receive internet funding. The national broadband speed map used by the government  identifies a number of communities as being ‘served’ and therefore ineligible for funding, despite internal speed mapping showing persisting pockets of low connectivity. 

At the 2022 Alberta Rural Connectivity Forum, hosted in May, representatives from local municipalities were able to address these concerns to Minister Nate Glubish, who spoke at the event. The Minister acknowledged the Government of Alberta needs to work individually with municipalities not covered by the Universal Broadband Fund, to ensure they are receiving the investments they need.