By Justin Seward
Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) is conducting an ongoing internet speed testing survey in conjunction with the Canadian Internet Registration Agency as a part advocating to the federal government in hopes of landing better broadband connection for rural Albertans.
Once tests are done the data will be shared and demonstrated with Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) in order to identify gaps in service and inform RMA advocacy.
“And so we worked with ISED, and we said, ‘Hey is there a way for us to get better quality data because that’s not what we’re seeing on the ground’” said Paul McLauchlin, RMA president.
“And so working with them, we’re actually using their system—but actually to find more refined data as a system. What it’s been able to tell us is their data was telling us that 36 per cent of rural Albertans have the 50 Mbps (Megabytes per second) downloads/10 Mbps upload speed and what our data ended up showing is less than 10 per cent—actually 9.5 per cent because of our more refined data—actually had access to those speeds.”
McLauchlin said RMA’s whole broadband data project is really driven by having refined data.
“We’ve been able to push a lot of our members and it’s amazing,” he said.
“Like the data we’ve had set out of this system has been just tremendous.”
The broadband project has been going since 2017 and RMA uses it as an option for the provincial broadband strategy, ensuring that all the RMA members are being looked at.
“There’s folks that are dealing with five Mbps down and one Mbps up (and) is not unheard of—like that’s common in the very remote areas of this province,” said McLauchlin.
“So, we’re wanting to give those folks a voice, just as much as those folks that are getting dodgy service as well.”
Discussions have also led to reliability.
“There’s the advertised speed and then there’s the real speed,” said McLauchlin.
“A lot of folks are advertising the higher speed then they’re giving us, that’s for sure.”
Dustin Vossler, who lives in the Seven Persons area, said it’s been struggle over the last year or two where everything has been turned to more online learning and meetings.
“That bandwidth we need to facilitate things like that just really isn’t there,” said Vossler.
“It’s been a constant problem all the way along. But in the last two years here it’s become way more noticeable.”
Vossler said Cypress County has been fairly hard advocates to find ways to make rural internet better in their area.
“It’s fairly terrible where I am,” he said.
“And it’s improved quite a bit over the last little while here, just in upgrading connections and stuff like that.”
Nichole Neubauer of Neubauer Farms gave full disclosure that she is an unhappy Xplornet customer.
“The last two years with them have proven they’ve just come up short on all accounts for rural internet—it’s just an ongoing challenge to try and get decent service,” she said.
She thinks for RMA distributing this survey is important.
“They can help amplify our voices,” said Neubauer.
“Rural internet is definitely when we compare the services that our urban counterparts can access, it falls way short (with) megabytes per second, download speeds of four is just not acceptable (and) usually about 1.8 for upload speeds.”
Rural residents can go to https://rmalberta.com/advocacy/toolkits-and-initiatives/cira-internet-performance-test/ to do the test through their web browser.
“The tests will actually tell them what their upload speed is, what their latency is and ultimately the download speed,” said McLauchlin.
Test requirements include using a computer or laptop, the computer should be connected to a modem/router with a direct cable connection if possible, running other applications while executing test will negatively affect test results, ask others to stop using internet while doing test, network slowdowns affect your test—load varies throughout the day, so test at different times—and run multiple tests at different times of the day to help assess peak times and load results.
Both the provincial and federal government has committed $150 million to broadband.
“But in order to bring all Albertans, rural including, it’s probably a $1.2 billion problem and I think the important conversation is that there’s those that are driven by the market,” said McLauchlin.
The test will be open for a year.
McLauchlin anticipated there were 200,000 households in the Alberta with substandard service.