The federal government announced Wednesday it will match Alberta’s $390 million commitment to bring high-speed Internet to almost every rural home and business within four years.
Federal Minister of Rural Economic Development Gudie Hutchings said the investment will improve broadband connections in about 200,000 Alberta households.
“We need to close this connection gap and ensure that every nook and cranny of Alberta has access to reliable high-speed Internet,” Hutchings said at a news conference in Leduc.
The province and federal government announced last December they would each invest $150 million in rural broadband. Last week, Alberta announced it was bumping up its commitment to $390 million, which with the federal cash brings Alberta closer to the estimated $1 billion cost to eliminate Alberta’s so-called “digital divide.”
Hutchings said the $2.75 billion Universal Broadband Fund is bankrolling the federal government’s goal to connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026, with all Canadians connected by 2030.
Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish called the federal contribution “amazing news. This is putting us on the track to universal connectivity.”
Good broadband service is critical to Alberta’s economic growth, including the agricultural sector, where precision farming technology is boosting production, said Glubish.
Hooking up all of rural Alberta to high-speed Internet is expected to provide a $1.7 billion boost to Alberta’s GDP.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said the investment is welcomed.
“I think the fact is we now have recognition from both the federal and provincial that rural broadband is an essential service,” said Wood.
The county already has its own $15-million broadband initiative and hopes to apply for funding through the government programs to help cover some of the cost.
It is an expensive project but Wood said he has only heard praise from residents about the investment.
“I know we are on the right track in the county getting this rolling.
“We didn’t want to be an Internet provider, but we realized it was never going to happen if we didn’t just do it,” he said.
A similar situation occurred decades ago, when rural residents banded together in co-ops to bring telephone, electricity and gas service to rural residents.
“I look at this in a similar way. Somebody had to do it because business was never going to do it to the scale necessary without our help.”