Sundre may get itself onto information superhighway

Creating its own network could bring high-speed internet sooner

Jon Allan, Economic Development Officer for the Town of Sundre

If all goes according to plan, residents, medical offices, businesses and anyone else in Sundre could have access to the information superhighway by 2019.

Right now, internet speed in the town is more like travelling down an old logging road — uneven and really slow. So rather than wait for the day when an Internet Service Provider (ISP) might offer faster, more modern internet, the town could become one of the few smaller communities in Canada to have a community-owned broadband fibre-optic network.

Internet service in Sundre is on the older DSL system. Fibre-optics is hundreds of times faster. The Town of Sundre had started down the path of getting better internet long before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently declared broadband a basic right in Canada. Nationwide targets for download and upload speeds of 50 and 10 megabits per second (Mpbs) were set by the CRTC.

“We’re lucky to get anywhere from 5 to 7 Mpbs download speeds,” Jon Allan, the town’s economic development officer, said Tuesday.

A project currently underway could bring to Sundre what most urban communities take for granted — high-speed internet of one gigabit per second of download and upload speeds.

The town recently issued a request for proposals to consult the public about whether the town should risk public dollars to develop its own fibre-optic network, and what the demand would be. It has been studying the idea of a publicly owned network since 2015.

Town council and administration concluded that the best model to follow would be to have the network infrastructure built for and owned by the town, then offer wholesale access to private ISPs for a fee, who would then market it to consumers.

“There are already service providers interested,” Allan said, adding residents are interested as well.

Using conservative estimates, he said the fibre optic deployment, projected to cost $2.75 million over four years, could reach operational profitability in less than five years. The money would be borrowed but taxes would not be affected. Ultimately, if the plan is successful, it would provide revenue to the town.

The medical community, which could, for example, use broadband internet for video consultations with specialists, was one of the driving sectors behind the idea, he said.

The Town of Olds has its own high-speed network, which offers internet, phone and TV service. The proposed Sundre system could do the same.

Allan said the public consultation and council’s review should be completed by the end of spring. Then, if approved, a request for proposals for a private company to deploy the system could occur. The first hook-ups could be done in 2018, and the rest completed by 2019.

Besides the many social and community benefits of fast internet, “you become more attractive for the recruitment of your labour force. Since we are a very diversified industrial community with lots of industry, we need that workforce here. To attract that workforce, and the associated entrepreneurs that will come with them eventually, we need to have that infrastructure,”

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