Province lag­ging on ru­ral broad­band plan: Al­berta Party

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - EMMA GRANEY

The Al­berta Party has slammed the gov­ern­ment’s miss­ing-in-ac­tion ru­ral in­ter­net strategy, say­ing there seems to be no po­lit­i­cal will to get it done.

Cal­gary-mackay-nose Hill MLA Karen Mcpher­son wants to know why the gov­ern­ment is drag­ging its heels on the cru­cial ser­vice for ru­ral Al­ber­tans, and wor­ries there will be no strategy in place be­fore the 2019 elec­tion.

Plan in the fall

Ser­vice Al­berta Min­is­ter Brian Malkin­son was not made avail­able for an in­ter­view, but told Post­media in July Al­ber­tans could ex­pect to see a plan in the fall.

Gov­ern­ment spokesper­son Kate Too­good said in an email that con­sul­ta­tions con­cluded less than two months ago and work on the strategy is still un­der­way.

"We ex­pect to share fur­ther de­tails in the near fu­ture. We un­der­stand that de­mand, speed, and per­for­mance ex­pec­ta­tions for broad­band are in­creas­ing, and we look for­ward to un­veil­ing a so­lu­tion that will en­sure all Al­ber­tans have qual­ity, af­ford­able in­ter­net ac­cess,” she wrote.

Mcpher­son doesn’t think that’s good enough.

“Even though I’m a city mouse, this is re­ally im­por­tant to our province and re­ally im­por­tant to what we say we value,” she said in an in­ter­view.

Mcpher­son, who pre­vi­ously worked in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, said the lack of a ru­ral in­ter­net plan means missed op­por­tu­ni­ties for eco­nomic devel­op­ment, social con­nec­tions and gen­er­ally keep­ing up with the rest of the world.

“I think farm­ers are im­por­tant and I be­lieve our First Na­tions need the op­por­tu­nity to be able to make things bet­ter ... (but with­out) good, re­li­able in­ter­net, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen and those op­por­tu­ni­ties are go­ing to get fur­ther and fur­ther away,” she said.

The province’s $1-bil­lion Su­per­net, which pro­vides in­ter­net in ru­ral ar­eas, came un­der fire from Al­berta’s au­di­tor gen­eral Doug Wylie in Novem­ber.

The high-speed in­ter­net ser­vice, which was first an­nounced in 2001 and com­pleted in 2005, con­nects to schools, hos­pi­tals, li­braries and gov­ern­ment of­fices. Since its launch, the ser­vice hasn’t been mon­i­tored ef­fec­tively, Wylie said Wed­nes­day.

Not far enough

Mcpher­son said Su­per­net it­self is a great idea, but doesn’t go far enough.

“It doesn’t in­cen­tivize the ser­vice providers lo­cally to go the last kilo­me­tre to peo­ple’s doorstep, so that’s an ob­sta­cle,” she said.

“There’s no busi­ness case for some­body to go into a small town. They’re not go­ing to make money off a town of 400 peo­ple, but those 400 peo­ple still re­quire this ser­vice in or­der to be able to fully par­tic­i­pate in the so­ci­ety and econ­omy we have now.”

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