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M.D. approves Rural Broadband Strategy

Posted on June 10, 2021 by Vauxhall Advance
By Cole Parkinson
Vauxhall Advance
cparkinson@tabertimes.com

In the quest to expand broadband connectivity in rural areas, the Municipal District of Taber is continuing to develop their strategy to do just that in the municipality. After some preliminary work, including a survey for residents, M.D. administration came forward to update council on their findings recently.

“This is really a summary of the efforts we took part with the consultation with Tango Networks. The work we combined efforts to come up with a strategy as one document as well as a proposed policy and a summary of our public input process that we did through a survey,” explained Bryce Surina, director of IT and GIS.

Overall, 12 key points were presented to council:

•UBF application endorsements by the M.D. are submitted for Xplornet and Telus awaiting approvals

•ISPs (Internet Service Provider) have corporate business development plans with or without grant funding

•After grant approvals are complete it is expected that the municipalities will be approached for continued support

•Strategy recommendations are actions that support our municipal priorities

•Actions are focused on supporting industry best practices and promoting the M.D. of Taber

•Own and operate is a last resort although it may be required for certain open access components

•High cost\high resource actions should be considered for future grant funding shovel ready projects

•Revenue options for a partial or full cost recovery are recommended

•High-cost actions are intended to aggressively pursue broadband development with the assumption that higher speeds will be required in the future based on past trends

•Actions are intended to have an impact on the broadband industry

•Public survey responses suggested that 74 per cent of residences are not satisfied overall (54 responses)

•Public survey responses suggested that 100 per cent of businesses are not satisfied Overall (seven responses)

“We’ve endorsed two of the larger ISPs in the area that have come to the municipality asking for endorsement for their Universal Broadband Fund applications,” added Surina. “So there are two endorsements out there waiting for a response from the Universal Broadband Fund currently. There is an opportunity and potential there for some fairly significant impact in the area. Also, it has been mentioned throughout the process that the ISPs in our area have plans to develop in our municipality regardless of the grant funding. So there is commitment to the area and to development on an ongoing basis, so they are here to do business here long-term.”

Surina explained to council how the ISPs would operate within the municipality and how the infrastructure for Internet would be used.

“The idea is to make sure the ISPs themselves operate the equipment and they’re invested in that application long-term. And they in turn share that infrastructure amongst the community. So there is an OAN, what we’re calling an Open Access Network approach that’s recommended throughout this entire program really. Making sure that whatever we contribute to is in alignment with the funding applications that are out there,” he said. “So, the Universal Broadband Fund, one of the requirements is open access type networks. So that’s the encouraging for, I want to say that competitive environment. That environment stimulates healthy competition and it also makes sure that access to the network is available for all of the ISPs and new ISPs that come to the area.”

Surina also touched on funding. With the federal government’s 2021 budget committing $1 billion to the Universal Broadband Fund over the next six years starting in 2021-22, Surina added this will no doubt help development across the country.

“There is cost associated with this kind of infrastructure and industry is quite used to contributions for operating and maintenance as well as infrastructure,” he said. “One of the big assumptions that was to be made was that because of the infrastructure, and it can be considered to be quite massive, there is definitely an element of provincial and federal funding that you can see why the Universal Broadband Fund has reached out. The federal government has engaged the industry to develop this infrastructure and it is fairly significant.”

As an example, Surina gave a rough estimate of $9.5 million for a completed network of transport fibre in the M.D.

“What that does is gives you an idea of the transport infrastructure and that’s the main backbone infrastructure that would feed the development throughout the municipality and create a wire line up our major corridors to connect all the communities with fibre-type infrastructure to support long-term growth.”

Despite this investment from the Canadian federal government, the U.S. federal government’s estimated funding for rural broadband is $120 billion.

“I think what these grant applications are doing is, they’re really making sure that they have the ISPs looking through a long-term lease. They really want to make sure what they’re doing isn’t going to address the 50 megs tomorrow because that’s changing weekly or monthly. They’re looking to solutions and infrastructure that’s going to support that long-term growth.”

With the hope of bringing high-speed Internet to rural areas, and to make it work financially, Surina explained when infrastructure is brought in, the hope is to have it serve as wide of an area as possible.

“The idea is it has an impact on the whole municipality, or as large of an area or service area as possible. I think the approach that was put out is that, and it’s an approach that has been taken across the board, they are to have an impact on either the whole municipality or region. Whether it be southeastern Alberta, but they are really looking for grant funding applications especially from the grant funding perspective. They’ve looking for applications that have a significant impact on a larger area for investment,” he said.

Surina also highlighted the fact the entire process of bringing broadband across rural areas hinges on three main factors.

“It’s about quality, affordability and accessibility. We’ve tried to align all of these pieces with those three elements,” he said. “It’s about making sure that first of all you have access to the Internet, you have access to broadband, so network activity whether you’re business or residential. The other thing is that have access to quality and that really ties into access during all times of the day, different speeds, the reliability and ability to do business on a full day basis even and not lose connectivity or have the required speeds throughout the day.”

“The last one was affordability and that ties really closely with the grant funding applications because they really want to make sure that we bridge what they call the digital divide. They want to bridge that where the actual cost of these services are comparable to rural to urban-type environments. There may be some understanding of higher increase or higher cost due to the additional infrastructure, but they’re comparable.”

A motion to accept the broadband strategy as presented was carried.

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