The internet has come a long way since the days when dial-up access was the norm, but for many rural communities in Alberta, that is not the case.
Rock Solid Nitrogen is located in Vermilion, Eastern Alberta. The company relies on the internet for almost everything, including tracking trucks, updating equipment, training staff and, of course, administrative tasks.
The problem: an unreliable internet connection.
“We lose our Internet functionality, where we are, probably on average four to five times a month,” President Randy Martin said.
“Time costs money in our industry.”
Martin said that when the system goes down, it can take hours before it’s back up and running. He said many customers want real-time data on trucks pumping nitrogen, or a quick turnaround for quotes.
“In order for them to get that back from the producer… who they work for and there are times when the system is down, we have to wait four, five to six days.”
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Vermilion City Manager Kevin Lucas said the slow internet has affected many businesses.
“Offshore companies have come to the city of Vermilion and are considering setting up their business here, and we haven’t been able to provide them with the internet access they need,” Lucas said.
“Being able to deliver (1Gbps) service to your home at a very affordable price is exactly what this community was looking for.”
Vermilion does not meet federal or provincial government funding requirements because parts of the city have high speeds. So the city turned to Alberta Broadband Network, a start-up company sponsored by Meridiam and Digital Infrastructure Group.
“The speeds are non-existent,” said Alberta Broadband Network CEO Ken Spagligar. “A lot of these communities are using copper-based service, potentially coax service, which can’t even come close to the services we provide and the speed.”
Spagligar said Vermilion is the first community they partnered with. He said big companies like Telus and Shaw were in no rush to invest in smaller centres.
“The ability to assemble a small agile team to deliver our services is much easier for us than a larger group to come in and navigate.”
Vermilion’s fiber optic cable network is already installed and in use.
“It’s a robust network that’s very similar in style to an urban center — downtown Edmonton, downtown Calgary.
“What we’re doing is trying to bridge the digital divide between urban centers and rural communities.”
The project costs between $10 million and $15 million to build, and the city has contributed $2.4 million.
“For the game-changing economy now, Vermillion has the internet big business is looking for,” Lucas said.
High speed internet is needed in many rural areas
Cybera is a research and education network on the uses of digital technology. Policy adviser Imran Mohiuddin said most cities have access to 50 megabytes per second download and 10 megabytes per second upload speeds, which is the federal government’s measure for high-speed internet.
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“When you look at rural communities, it drops to around 40%, and First Nations communities drop to less than 10%,” he said.
“It’s basically the cop of what we call the digital divide in Canada.”
Mohiuddin said the way the federal government maps connectivity in Canada to achieve access at its target speeds means that in cases like Vermilion, there will be pockets.
“There may be a pocket that has high-speed Internet access, but a larger portion of the community does not, or the available speed may be sufficient to support residential broadband use, but that is not sufficient to support commercial or industrial use.”
He said it also creates this situation, where the communities are not eligible for funding but at the same time the service providers who are in the area will not build a better network because it is very expensive.
It’s not even exclusive to cities and rural communities. Some small towns in the province also face this problem.
The town of Brooks is home to nearly 15,000 people but its internet speeds do not meet the needs of residents. The city is also not eligible for funding.
“Because (the government) could find 50 and 10 speeds within the community – but most of our community can’t do that, I think about 70% of the community can’t do that,” said Brooks Town Manager Alan. says Martens.
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“Right now we have one funded partner and that is Community Network Partners, they work through their parent company Crown Capital (Partners Inc.). So basically our project is costing a little over $20 million – we’re picking up $5.8 million of that, they’re picking up over $15 million of that.
Internet is installed by zones and should be fully functional by the end of 2023.
“For communities to be competitive now, especially on a global scale, you need to have a good internet connection. This will allow our businesses to operate anywhere, they will be able to download them quickly,” Martens said. .
“For commerce, it will help enormously, they will have no barriers as to where and with whom they are doing business.”
Some Canadians look beyond our borders for reliable Internet
Some Canadians also look outside the country for their Internet needs.
Starlink is an option being explored across Canada, with more people signing up every day. It is a low-orbit satellite internet service provided by Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX.
SpaceX has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites in orbit, providing high-speed, high-speed internet access to remote corners of the world
All hardware – self-aligning dish, brackets and cables – ships directly from the US company to customers at a cost of around $800. As long as it has a clear view of the sky, most remote properties can access high-speed internet. The service itself costs $140 per month.
The service has caught the attention of some provincial governments: In May, Quebec announced it would invest $50 million to bring Starlink to about 10,000 remote homes across the province by the end of September. The houses are located away from the province’s fiber optic cable network.
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Then, in July, Nova Scotia offered about 3,700 rural homes and businesses a one-time rebate of up to $1,000 to acquire satellite Internet and declared Starlink the only company capable of meeting the targets of Minimum required upload and download speed set by Radio-Canada. Television and Telecommunications Commission.
Other providers were invited to participate in the rebate program once they met the minimum requirements of 50 megabytes per second for download and 10 megabytes per second for upload.
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Amazon also plans to launch the first of its internet satellites early next year from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
— With files from The Canadian Press