Survey identifies significant gaps in broadband coverage

A survey of six Lacombe County townships shows they don’t meet the grade for wireless Internet and cellphone coverage.

A survey of six Lacombe County townships shows they don’t meet the grade for wireless Internet and cellphone coverage.

Consultants were hired to undertake the study of townships in the southeast side of the county between Blackfalds and Alix in response to resident complaints about their service.

The county had applied previously for funding to upgrade broadband service but were told by federal and provincial officials the municipality was considered to have full coverage.

A review by Edmonton-based ViTel Consulting Inc. shows significant gaps in both cellphone and broadband Internet coverage.

Emergency Services communications were fine because they use radio transmissions, council was told.

Consultants recommended that the county build its own network of towers and lease tower space to wireless providers.

However, going that route would require significant expense and leave the county responsible for ongoing maintenance, said county commissioner Terry Hager.

Another option would be to select a single wireless provider to design, build and operate a wireless network to reach all residents. Finding a provider could prove difficult though depending on the business case that could be made.

Coun. Rod McDermand said other counties have taken on the job of providing broadband coverage and Lacombe County should follow suit after years of talking about it.

“I think it’s the time of day to do something about it,” he said “I think there’s a ton of towers out there. I think it’s just a matter of making some agreements and getting it done.”

Not having proper cellphone and Internet service turns residents into “second-class citizens,” he said.

Coun. Ken Wigmore suggested the county needs to get a better picture of how many residents are without service who need it before going any further.

“It doesn’t make sense to build a $350,000 (wireless) tower if there are three people to hook on to it.”

Council agreed to survey residents to find out how many are affected by poor service. The county will also send letters to the premier, Service Alberta and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development pointing out service deficiencies and what options there are to improve them.

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