By Jamie Rieger
As technology keeps advancing at lightning speed, it is hard for municipalities to keep the pace and many small rural communities are lagging behind and Palliser Economic Partnership is in the process of looking at ways to bring affordable high-speed Internet to the southeast corner of Alberta.
“There is a misconception from outside of Alberta that we are so fortunate to have the Supernet, but it is expensive and businesses are paying a lot of money to have it,” said
Bow Island mayor Gordon Reynolds. “It is on the radar now for Industry Canada. We are way behind other countries with this. The U.S. had created a program (years ago).”
The mayors and reeves of SE Alberta has requested that the Palliser Economic Partnership (PEP) look into the possibility of having a regional rural broadband system put in place. PEP has since contracted the Van Horne Institute to conduct a study.
“We are looking at the region as a whole as an option. Medicine Hat councilor Jim Turner has been quite an advocate for rural high-speed Internet. Lots of towns are getting good speed, but is there a way to narrow the gap between urban and rural? If the City is involved, maybe that is a way to bring the costs down.”
Slemp said the Van Horne Institute is looking at whether a regional system would even be viable for SE Alberta and if there is a business arguement for it.
“Medicine Hat sees the benefits of helping the outlying communities, so it is not about just them, but all of southern Alberta. We have to buddy up these days,” said Slemp. “We are trying to keep the discussion going and are we even keeping up with it? By taking a regional view, we are hoping to help everybody.”
Some Alberta communities have installed it on their own and it is saving their businesses and individuals a huge chunk of money.
“In Olds, the cost is $129. Here it would be $1,200,” said Reynolds. “Waterton was probably the first. They initially set up WiFi for the tourists and was overwhelmed with the response.”
Parks Canada then mandated that all of their facilities to be connected to fibre optics.
The study is expected to be complete by the end of June at which time a consultant will be hired to further look at a regional broadband model.