Provincial Broadband Strategy

Subject Infrastructure
Year 2021
Status Adopted - Active
Sponsor - Mover Alberta Urban Municipalities Association
Sponsor - Seconder West Cove, Summer Village of
Active Clauses

IT IS THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT AUMA advocate for the Government of Alberta to immediately engage municipalities and other stakeholders in developing a provincial broadband strategy with measurable goals, concrete actions and a dedicated budget that recognizes broadband as an essential utility.

Whereas Clauses

WHEREAS the digital divide is increasingly limiting access to economic, health, social, and educational opportunities across Alberta;   

WHEREAS the availability of high-speed, reliable internet is key to attracting business and residents and this has an impact on economic development and viability of municipalities;

WHEREAS there exists provincially a piecemeal approach with municipalities, non-profits and private sector individually trying to solve this issue with a lack of resources and coordination, and limited opportunities to share lessons learned; and 

WHEREAS development of a broadband strategy has been listed as a provincial business plan initiative since 2019.

Resolution Background

Broadband is an essential service that provides communities access to education, healthcare, government, and the marketplace. In the 20th century, provincial governments directly invested in expanding access to telephone.  A similar effort is required to bridge the digital divide in the 21st century.

The federal government aims to have 98 per cent of Canadian households connected with 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds (commonly referred to as the 50/10 threshold). According to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), only 45.6% of small towns, villages and other areas defined as rural in Canada can access these speeds .  Yet even this low number is likely overinflated as the current method of capturing Broadband access is based on one connection in an area meeting the 50/10 threshold.

The federal government provides funding through programs like the Universal Broadband Fund to attempt to address this divide, however the fund is $1.75 billion Canada-wide, of which Alberta expects around $200 million. Service Alberta estimates it would cost $1 billion to connect all Albertans to the target internet speed.  Municipalities are also limited in applying for this funding because the maps that determine eligibility are often inaccurate due to the issues mentioned above.
 
Even newer technology, such as 5G may have limited success at narrowing the digital divide, if it is deployed using existing infrastructure which leaves gaps in both cellular and internet coverage. While other technologies, such as satellite, are currently cost prohibitive for many users.

Municipalities can be stymied when they try to drive their own solutions for broadband. Telecommunications companies require significant financial contributions to upgrade infrastructure ahead of their internal schedules. Some municipalities look to establish their own community Internet Service Provider (ISP). However, municipalities often lack the capacity to source infrastructure and gather the information to build a business case. In addition, there is a great deal of risk associated with municipal investments in broadband, including that local infrastructure will be taken advantage of by ISP providers without adequate compensation. 

There are successful examples of community broadband in Alberta. Communities like Olds, Delburne, and Kainai (Blood) First Nation have managed to develop successful ISPs, and a provincial broadband strategy would help municipalities to emulate these successes.
A strategy is needed from the provincial government to provide coordination among municipalities, non-profits and telecommunications companies to support broadband access across the province for the benefit of all communities. A strategy will also provide the data needed to confirm the essential nature of broadband in Alberta. A provincial strategy would provide utility to municipalities that are wanting to pursue a broadband project by establishing resources for financial analysis, mapping of existing infrastructure, and metrics for developing business cases.

In 2015, AUMA members passed a resolution co-sponsored by 14 towns and villages emphasizing the importance of affordable internet access and advocating for the province to advocate for a broadband policy. In 2016, the City of St. Albert sponsored requesting the province include municipalities as key stakeholders in the development of broadband programs and provide funding for municipalities to increase access to high-speed internet.  Municipalities small and large from across Alberta continue to emphasis the essential nature of broadband infrastructure in supporting the economic and social wellbeing of communities.

Since 2019, the Government of Alberta’s business plans have indicated that Service Alberta will develop a broadband framework or strategy, but to date there has been no concrete engagement of municipalities or other stakeholders in its development.

It is essential that the strategy be completed in advance of the next provincial election so that progress can be made to measurably improving broadband access without further delays.

Business Plan Excerpts:

The ministry is committed to building a framework to support widespread access to high-speed broadband across the province to ensure that all Albertans can take advantage of online services and remote learning. Making connectivity a foundational part of the province will encourage investment, job creation and economic diversification.

Improve connectivity services to public sector facilities, and collaborate with business and partners to develop a framework to support widespread access to high-speed broadband.

Develop a strategy to support widespread access to high-speed broadband and realize the opportunities for innovation and efficiency inherent in digital service delivery

 [1]  https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/internet/internet.htm

[2] From: Alberta broadband strategy unclear despite push from province, feds for connectivity, www.cbc.ca, March 30, 2021

AUMA Notes

Advocating for increased access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet is a high priority for AUMA and closely related to our work on municipal viability as well as economic recovery and resiliency.