Commentary – Telcos must improve their rural Internet services

Mac Olsen

The Alberta Government intends to develop a rural broadband network strategy, or find ways to improve Internet service to rural Albertans.

But the telecommunication companies must be mandated to improve their services, not just pay lip service to any such strategy.

In an Edmonton Journal story published on July 23, Alberta Services Minister Brian Malkinson said “rural broadband isn’t a luxury,” and that a rural broadband network strategy could be devised this fall.

The Edmonton Journal also noted that the CRTC has declared that “a well-developed broadband infrastructure is essential for Canadians to participate in the digital economy.”

The CRTC expects 90 per cent of Canadian homes and businesses will have access to 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds within three years.

“We’re using that as a starting point, because Internet usage tends to go up as time goes on, not down,” Malkinson said. “With any broadband strategy, we’ll have to keep that in mind.”

On June 29, the Alberta Government entered an agreement with Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) to take over from Axia, the SuperNet service in the province. The SuperNet is a fibre optic, broadband network that connects rural and urban communities, including public institutions such as schools and hospitals. The SuperNet infrastructure is installed in many parts of the Peace Country.

BCE is expected to add hundreds of communities as part of its takeover of providing the SuperNet service. But I expect BCE to offer 10/50 Mbps speeds that the CRTC envisions, or to do even better. This company must provide that service with reasonable pricing and universal access – and not just pick and choose the regions or communities that it wants to serve.

I also insist that TELUS do the same thing. Currently, TELUS provides high-speed Internet services in places like Edmonton and it has established fibre optic service in Peace River and Slave Lake.

However, I am very disappointed that in the two years since those communities received fibre optic service, TELUS hasn’t extended the same courtesy to other communities, namely Falher, Donnelly, McLennan and High Prairie.

There is a page on the TELUS website encouraging those who want the service to contact others in their area, to lobby TELUS to give priority to their community.

But it’s like playing the lottery, you may win, but the odds are you will lose, which is blatantly unfair. No community should have to “lobby” a telecommunications company to provide improved telecommunications services, especially broadband and fibre optic services. No consumer should have to grovel for the privilege of improved Internet service.

Fibre optic service should be provided universally, or not at all. All rural communities, including First Nations and Metis settlements, need improved broadband service in order to provide health and education services and stimulate the economy.

So, when Minister Malkinson is talking about improved broadband service for rural Albertans, he should mandate telecommunication companies to invest in infrastructure so that all Albertans, rural and urban, can operate on a level playing field.

 

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