Responding to the ongoing struggles faced by rural Albertans to access high-speed, affordable internet, the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition has unveiled a new website to offer resources and learning events for those wanting to find local solutions. The website will allow communities and networking experts to collaborate on local projects to provide internet to residents, and stay informed on emerging issues in broadband access in Alberta.
The coalition was formed in 2020 by a group of Albertans who were interested in rural broadband advocacy, as well as sharing policy and technological solutions for communities. The group is facilitated by Cybera (Alberta’s not-for-profit technology accelerator), the Rural Development Network, and professors Dr. Michael McNally and Dr. Rob McMahon of the University of Alberta.
The issue at the heart of the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition is the lack of affordable, high-speed internet access in many parts of the province. In 2019, the federal government announced its 2030 goal of having all Canadians accessing the internet at home at speeds of 50 Mbps (download) and 10 Mbps (upload). While the official CRTC data shows 33% of rural Albertans currently have access to this speed, studies by organizations operating in Alberta show the figure may be even lower.
The COVID-19 pandemic and requirements for many to work / learn from home have only exacerbated the issue of rural, remote and First Nations connectivity in Alberta.
Made up of over 50 municipalities, educational institutions, non-for-profits, and individual members, the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition is advocating for universal access to high-speed internet at an affordable price for all Albertans, including those living in rural, remote, First Nations and Metis Settlements communities. This includes pushing for multiple levels of government to provide funding — and other forms of regulatory relief — for telecommunications infrastructure in Alberta’s rural communities.
One community that has been struggling with accessible internet is Red Deer County. “We believe the gap between rural and urban access to high-speed internet cannot be resolved through current funding and incentive models,” says Darren Young, Information Technology Manager for Red Deer County.
“The high cost for the private sector of installing telecom infrastructure in Canada’s vast geographic and minimally populated areas is the key to the problem. This is why all levels of government should participate in funding. Moreover, we believe communities should maintain ownership over their internet assets, which will better enable services that can be more fairly and cheaply accessed by Albertans. This is the reason why we support the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition.”
Dr. Barb Cara, President and CEO of Cybera, stresses the importance of connectivity for all residents. “Albertans — particularly in rural, remote, and First Nations communities — are falling behind in Canada’s digital economy. This coalition is a way to bring communities together to more effectively advocate for the needs of their residents, and share opportunities for local community-owned telecoms projects.”
In the next year, the Alberta Rural Connectivity Coalition aims to deliver workshops and webinars on topics such as the upcoming provincial broadband strategy, technical solutions for rural connectivity being implemented in the province, and federal funding opportunities. It will also seek to partner with organizations to pilot new bandwidth technologies, including Low Earth Orbit satellites and mesh networks.