Broadband internet is a vital service for every community in Alberta. Many of our members have been clear that the level of service they receive in their community does not meet the needs of their residents and businesses. Alberta Municipalities has been supporting our members by advocating for funding for broadband infrastructure upgrades in underserved communities, and regulatory changes that will incent more broadband investment in Alberta.  

Broadband Advocacy

Alberta Municipalities’ Board of Directors sponsored a resolution at our 2021 annual convention calling on the provincial government to develop a strategy to support improved broadband service for municipalities. In early 2022, we were encouraged by the release of the Alberta Broadband Strategy. In addition to the strategy, combined funding of $780 million from the federal and provincial governments was also announced. One concern that our members raised with this funding was that it flowed through the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). Some concerns with this approach are that the UBF closed for applications in March 2021, and that the application criteria made many communities ineligible for funding despite having low levels of broadband service.  

Alberta Municipalities successfully advocated for a more flexible approach to allow communities to apply for this funding. The Alberta Government announced in September 2022 that they would be setting aside $36 million of the previously announced $780 million to be known as the Alberta Broadband Fund, for projects in communities that were not eligible for UBF funding.  

Alberta SuperNet

To understand broadband connectivity in Alberta it is important to also understand SuperNet. SuperNet is a fibre and wireless network designed to provide broadband connectivity to public institutions across the province, such as schools, hospitals and government offices. Completed in 2005, SuperNet was a multi-million-dollar strategic infrastructure investment funded by the Government of Alberta and Bell Canada. 

The province invested in the rural portion of SuperNet but the network itself is owned almost entirely by private sector telecommunications providers and leased back to the province. The lease grants the province exclusive use of the infrastructure until 2045 with a requirement that the province pay maintenance costs. Since 2018, SuperNet has been managed and operated by Bell Canada, under contract to the Government of Alberta.

SuperNet provides one of the backbones of fibre infrastructure in the province, with numerous connection points where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can tie into the network and deliver broadband service -- via local networks -- to homes and businesses in Alberta communities. The Government of Alberta set a base universal fee structure across the province, which means that all ISPs can access the backbone fibre infrastructure at a monthly flat rate regardless of geographic location.

In principle, this makes broadband more accessible; however, leveraging the benefits of broadband has proven challenging for communities that lack the local “last mile” infrastructure to connect to the SuperNet or any other broadband infrastructure. The high cost of such development has proven to be a major barrier for many communities. 

Alberta Municipalities worked with communities that have pursued their own broadband projects on a series of articles in our newsletter, The Weekly. The title of the series is “Solving Municipal Broadband” and our hope was that this would provide lessons learned and greater awareness of the pros and cons of pursuing a community broadband project.   

Strathcona County  

City of Brooks

Village of Delburne and Red Deer County