Internet accessibility is becoming an election issue in the upcoming provincial race.
The Alberta NDP has announced its commitment to connecting every person in Alberta with universal broadband internet by 2027.
“We are proud to make this commitment because we understand how important rural communities are to Alberta’s future,” explained NDP leader Rachel Notley on April 19. “Digital equality is a key component of economic and community growth going forward.”
The NDP said these commitments include $400-million in capital grants to build broadband infrastructure, legislation called the Building Broadband Faster in Alberta Act and a new provincial agency to transform infrastructure in Alberta.
The Building Broadband Faster in Alberta Act would speed up permitting, partnerships with municipalities and ensure access to infrastructure right-of-ways to build the broadband network faster.
“This legislation will ensure that we don’t just build faster, but build better – with an eye to the future,” explained Taneen Rudyk, NDP candidate for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville. “Access to high-speed internet is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It is essential for our businesses, our agricultural operations, our students and our communities.”
The plan is also to use a “dig once” policy and install fibre internet lines on any build or upgrade.
The new agency to transform infrastructure would be called Digital Innovation Alberta and is expected to cost $5-million annually. The plan would also see a new Broadband Advisory Group created that would pull together stakeholders to inform the best strategy for broadband access in each region and community.
“Having access to the internet can literally change lives – it has helped connect healthcare providers with patients, teachers with students, and families with each other,” Tonita said. “It is absolutely essential to our economic future.”
Tonita added the province needs to connect people to grow our industries, create new jobs and drive new investment opportunities.
MLA Glubish reiterates UCP’s focus on rural broadband connectivity through multi-million-dollar Alberta Broadband Strategy
Nate Glubish, UCP candidate for Strathcona-Sherwood Park and Minister of Technology and Innovation, said the NDP invested nothing in rural broadband expansion when they were in power.
“The UCP made rural broadband a major priority,” Glubish said. “Our bold Alberta Broadband Strategy includes $390-million to connect every Albertan, regardless of where they live, to affordable, reliable high-speed internet by 2027. Our funding commitment unlocked a historic $390-million dollar-for-dollar matching in federal funding, bringing the total public investment in Alberta to $780-million.”
Glubish said 50 communities across the province are now receiving funding to build reliable, high-speed internet networks.
Sue Timanson, Alberta Party candidate for Sherwood Park, said it was good to see a focus on connectivity but thinks the approach is wrong.
“Both the NDP and UCP have plans that revolve around municipalities applying to government or to a board in order to get grant approval for their support in finding partners for broadband,” explained Timanson. “We would trust municipalities to make those partnerships and make the grant money available to them and make the grant money available to them for them to make the partnerships first.”
Jacob Stacy, Liberal party candidate for Sherwood Park, said the Liberals would connect Albertans in a different way.
“The Liberals want to develop satellite academic campuses in rural communities throughout Alberta to provide academic and trades training opportunities to those that typically wouldn’t have access to it and allow those professionals to stay and be a part of there home communities,” Stacy said. “The development of broadband internet is a priority for the Liberals and is paramount to the survivability of our rural communities.”