Northern Alberta Broadband Preparedness Project

Tom Henihan
Express Staff
The Northern Alberta Broadband Preparedness Project, to be completed in March 2017, will provide a broadband assessment for the Northern Alberta Development Council (NADC) region and for each sub-regional economic development association in the north.

NADC’s mandate is “to help the region’s 150 communities and 350,000 people realize their rich potential and strengthen their diverse economies.”

To this end, NADC is collaborating with the Regional Development Branch of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the five northern Regional Economic Development Alliances (REDAs) across the north, approximately from St. Paul to Rainbow Lake and Fort Chipewyan to Grande Cache to assess the status and the need of broadband within the NADC region.

The study breaks down into four phases, three of which relate to strategy development and one to the development of a business case. The four phases defined by the NABPP are as follows:

1. The study will begin by assessing the current state of regional/local broadband infrastructure and services in each municipality (city, town, and village), county, Municipal District, First Nation, and Métis Settlement in our region. An inventory of existing and planned broadband and civil infrastructure, service coverage, service levels, and price points will be created.

2. This phase is focused on developing a view of the desired future state, i.e., where your community would like to be in three, five, and 10 years from now with respect to broadband services and applications. Here’s where the project team would like your input again – both your views on desired future states and aspirations of your REDA or community and on the potential broadband options (we’ll review them at the session) you would like to explore will be appreciated.

3. This piece of work will build on the views developed in the current and desired state work, outline the options available to bridge any gaps identified, and then suggest potential strategies at both the municipal and regional levels to bridge the gaps. The regional level options will be quantitatively evaluated and an overall strategy will be developed and, early in the New Year, presented for your feedback.

4. Based on the agreed upon strategy, if applicable, a preliminary business case will be developed.

Diane Chiasson, Economic Development Officer, Smoky River Regional Economic Development is attending meetings in communities throughout northern Alberta to keep up-to-date on matters and to identify areas of consensus on how to proceed.

Chiasson has already attended meetings in High Level, Lac la Biche and a consultation in High Prairie November 23, with another tentatively scheduled for December in Grande Prairie.

While Axia, the provider of broadband internet in the region currently provides service to schools, libraries and provincial government offices, it is deemed prohibitively expensive for most individuals and businesses. However, Axia’s contract is up in 2017, which may prompt a review in price or allow another company to step in and provide service.

In a digital world, broadband is essential for business and education and to meet the demands of the contemporary individual user. Broadband is essential to rural areas such as the Smoky River Region to stay abreast and maintain the same capability and access as other more populous regions.
Being isolated geographically is even more reason to have access electronically in order to retain existing businesses, attract new enterprises and maintain a level playing field in terms of heath care, culture and education.

Following the completion of the Northern Alberta Broadband Preparedness Project in March 2017, each northern Alberta REDA will present a seminar outlining the finding of the project in its region.

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