Advocacy continues for province-wide broadband service
While we were busy hosting our annual Convention & Trade Show in Calgary last week, the Government of Alberta made several positive announcements on the broadband front.
First, Service Alberta announced that it is re-allocating $36 million from the provincial government's existing broadband commitment for a new intake of projects that may not have been considered under the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). This pot of funding will be known as the Alberta Broadband Fund (ABF).
Second, a list of projects representing approximately $70 million of the previously announced funding has been approved and publicly announced. This funding will connect approximately 10,000 households to reliable high-speed Internet service.
These announcements come less than a year after ABmunis' members passed a resolution at our 2021 Convention calling on the provincial government to take tangible steps to address the lack of reliable high-speed Internet in communities across Alberta.
In early 2022, the provincial government introduced its Alberta Broadband Strategy – a plan to connect 400,000 underserved households in Alberta. The Government of Alberta’s 2022 budget included $390 million in funding for broadband projects. This led to an announcement from the Government of Canada that it would match the provincial government's funding, bringing the total funding available for Alberta broadband projects to $780 million.
This unprecedented investment in the expansion of broadband service was celebrated by Alberta Municipalities. However, as more information on this funding and how the provincial government intended to roll it out became available, our members raised several concerns to us.
The most pressing concern was that the funding was to be allocated through the existing UBF. Municipalities that have tried to apply for UBF funding may have noticed that the criteria are linked to broadband availability maps that do not accurately reflect local service levels.
Another issue our members raised was that applications for UBF funding closed in March 2021, leaving many communities that might have applied for funding without an opportunity to do so.
Further adding to members' concerns was the fact that no funding announcements were made by September 2022, meaning that projects would be unable to proceed in the 2022 construction season.
Alberta Municipalities advocated strongly on our members' behalf that this approach would leave many communities without reliable high-speed Internet service and ultimately reduce the provincial government’s chances of achieving its stated goal of connecting 400,000 households over the next four years.
We applaud last week's announcement about the ABF. Still, questions remain about timelines and eligibility for the new fund, and ABmunis will continue to shine a spotlight on this important issue.