A Red Deer County councillor’s struggles to join a virtual discussion on a broadband proposal embodied the frustrations some rural residents face.
Coun. Philip Massier’s voice was garbled, he was getting feedback, and the video was grainy as he tried to join the debate along with other council members from his home about six kilometres southwest of Delburne on Tuesday.
In an effort to improve that situation, council approved spending up to $4 million as its share of a $9.2-million rural fibre optic project that is also being funded by Delburne and Penhold.
Valo Networks, which worked with the county last year on a prototype, had the winning bid on the five-year contract to build and operate the fibre optic network.
The project could connect as much as 10 per cent of the county’s population of about 20,000.
“It would also help to facilitate the connection of internet-starved communities like Delburne, with the potential to add another 446 customers to the county’s network,” a report on the project presented to council in February says.
The initiative was called “ground breaking,” by Coun. Christine Moore.
“I think the situation we’ve been through in the last two months has really shown the gaps in our communication, particularly as so many people are working from home.
“We witnessed it today with Coun. Massier. Our rural residents deserve the same as the people in the cities,” said Moore.
“We’re not going to come out of this COVID experience quite the same and we need to set our residents up for success.
“Internet is like a utility now. We would not dream of not having gas or electricity to our residents.”
Coun. Connie Huelsman, who is also a Chinook’s Edge School Board trustee, said she has seen the difficulties teachers have had trying to run virtual classrooms in rural areas.
She hopes that broadband is later extended to areas on the west side of the county that need it.
“I totally feel that we’re on the right path. I really believe we are a leader in this.”
Mayor Jim Wood suggested the importance of the initiative can’t be underestimated.
When many residents are working from home, improving internet service can bolster the economy, he said.
“We could be the pilot project for the entire province if we get the opportunity.
“I’m just looking forward to the excitement when we get to expand to the next areas. I think it’s one of the key, leading things we can do to try to pull us out of the tough time we’re in right now.”