Solving Municipal Broadband – Strathcona County (Part 1)

Access to adequate internet connectivity continues to be a critical issue for many Alberta municipalities. For years, many communities across the province have taken it upon themselves to try to bridge the so-called ‘digital divide.’ At our recent 2021 Convention, the Alberta Municipalities Board presented a resolution advocating for the Government of Alberta to develop a Provincial Broadband Strategy. It passed with overwhelming membership support.

The Solving Municipal Broadband series of articles seeks to improve members’ collective knowledge on this critical issue by showcasing the efforts occurring at municipal levels of government. 

Our inaugural article focuses on the rural and urban municipality of Strathcona County, whose efforts are being led by Christopher Green, Infrastructure & Customer Support Manager.

Strathcona County (‘the County’) started its broadband journey in 2014, when it recognized the internet connectivity challenges faced by its rural resident population and commissioned a targeted feasibility study. 

The intent of the study was to identify high-value opportunities that would increase the accessibility of internet services and lead to creation of its Rural Internet Access Program. To date, this program has subsidized 60+ wireless tower projects and increased rural internet access to 92% of its residents (up from 40% in 2014) and closed notable ‘gaps in service’.

Despite the program’s success, the municipality continued to look at ways to improve the performance of internet services available to its community. Initially, it looked to garner funding via federal grant programs; however, it determined it was either ineligible or unable to submit a competitive bid due to current zoning.   

As more internet connectivity and performance issues were raised by business and residential community members, and as astronomical quotes from telecommunications companies’ to lay fiber infrastructure were received, the County engaged the public to better determine how it should proceed. Notably, 80% of local businesses indicated they wanted the municipality to be actively involved in improving internet services. 

Despite broadband not being a service traditionally offered or managed by a municipality, and not knowing how or what the service would look like in the future, the County boldly commissioned its Community Broadband project in the spring of 2020.

Next week, Part 2 in this series will detail how Strathcona County has gone to market. Please click here to read part 2 and part 3 of the series. For more information, contact DanB [at] (Dan Blackburn), Senior Director of Growth & Innovation, at Alberta Municipalities.