Report requested to improve rural residential internet

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Internet connectivity is on the radar yet again for elected officials.

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During the most recent council meeting on June 14, Strathcona County council supported Ward 5 Coun. Aaron Nelson’s motion asking for a report from administration regarding the potential of a rebate or grant program to support improving residential internet services through companies such as Starlink Satellite.

In particular, the report will include three key points:

  1. An estimate of the number of residential homes outside the urban service area (aka outside of Sherwood Park) and within the urban areas west of Highway 21 that do not have access to broadband internet speeds of at least 50MB for downloads and 10MB for uploads.
  2. The feasibility of, and the cost of a municipal grant or rebate program that would provide up to 50 per cent of the equipment costs (with a maximum of $ 350 per residential home) towards the set up for the Starlink Satellite residential internet or similar companies for county residents that do not have access to broadband internet speeds of at least 50MB for downloads and 10MB for uploads, and,
  3. A proposed criteria to apply for the rebate or grant program, such as not having access to fiber optic networks now or in the near future.

“We don’t have a lot of information that we’re needing. I’d like to know how many residents we anticipate are east of Highway 21 in the rural area that don’t have internet access as well as those west of Highway 21 that do not have the correct internet access. With that information, it will allow us to make a decision if fiber optics is coming to certain areas, or if the price tag of Starlink is going to be less expensive by substantial amounts of money. On top of that, we might not even be able to get Starlink due to supply chain issues, so without a report to understanding what our options are, we’re just spinning our wheels, ”Nelson explained.

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The Ward 5 councillor confirmed he hasn’t heard of many other municipalities using Starlink, but he knows of individuals who use it and they haven’t reported any issues with the service.

In addition to the report, Mayor Rod Frank noted he’d want any kind of provincial or federal funding attached to the creation of this potential program.

“It’s an innovative, potential look at how to resolve the issues of providing internet in the rural area,” noted Ward 1 Coun. Robert Parks.

Ward 2 Coun. Dave Anderson called it a “fantastic idea”, saying it could be a cost-effective solution.

“It is an extremely innovative way to solve a problem that both provincial and federal governments have been kicking down the road,” Anderson said. “It puts Strathcona County in this position of leading the way of finding creative solutions to big problems.”

During a recent Sherwood Park and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Nelson along with councilors Bill Tonita, Ward 4, and Corey-Ann Hartwick, Ward 6, told Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA and Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish that poor internet access in rural portion of the county and older parts of Sherwood Park is impacting business owners, residents working from home, students studying online, and the quality of life for everyday residents.

CFO Jennifer Cannon confirmed that the county would not require additional funding to create the report and that it could be done within existing staff capacity.

Council supported the request for the report through an 8-0 vote. Tonita was absent from the vote due to an educational conference.

The report is expected to return to council in the third quarter of 2022.

lmorey@postmedia.com

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