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M.D. council updated on quest for rural broadband

Posted on December 30, 2020 by Taber Times

By Cole Parkinson
Taber Times

The mission of bringing broadband to the rural parts of Alberta continues to be a major focus for the Municipal District of Taber.

After the Oct. 27 M.D. council meeting where it was decided the next step was to move forward with the RFP process, the original intent was to continue in preparation for grant applications in the new year.

Other good news has also come out as the Canadian government released another grant in the form of the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF).

“This is just an update from our Rural Broadband Strategy and we felt it was appropriate because, as a moving target, this whole program, and developing a strategy, there are so many components and new pieces added to the equation as we move along,” started Bryce Surina, director of IT and GIS. “We followed an RFEOI (Request for Expression of Interest) process so that is the expression of interest from industry so we are really trying to engage with industry. We’re trying to make sure any of the innovative ways, means and methods that industry has been brought to the table, especially any new ways of doing that. As a decision from council at the last meeting, it was to move forward with an RFP and that was to solidify pricing and the intent of going forward with an application through the CRTC Broadband Fund. That has been around for Phase 1 and 2, and this will be going onto a third phase.”

Surina also touched on how the newly announced UBF could potentially play as a factor in the new year as they look to continue to expand rural broadband.

“In being prepared for that, we newly got introduced to the Universal Broadband Fund. The newly established funding has obviously come with a very short timeline. The government of Canada is really promoting the development of broadband throughout Canada. As we go through this process, we have to tighten up our timelines as these programs come out earlier. Some of the requirements do change as well.”

With potential funding coming next year, Surina also detailed some of the requirements they will need to meet in order to be eligible.

“One of the things that I really want to highlight is the 50/10 (Mbps). We set that as a standard, and we used the CRTC standard, of 50/10 as a target. They are really promoting that through these programs so we are on the right path. Our main goal was to really meet that standard for our residents and that is being highlighted throughout these programs,” explained Surina.

“The second was to show council we are trying to adapt to these changes. As these programs roll out, we’re making the necessary lefts and rights, and trying to make sure we bring council up to date as much as possible along the way,” he continued. “As a requirement of the program going forward, they have to show they can get to 50/10. They’ve all acknowledged it and put in pieces of their program to facilitate it. It’s very much a requirement. As far as the challenge goes? I believe there are industry challenges that go along with that. Right now, most of the areas are 25 megs, and that is pretty common as far as speeds go. Maybe in denser populated areas you will see 50 megs for certain areas.”

Come early next year, the group will be busy readying applications for the grants.

With pretty short turn around times coming in the new year, Surina talked about how they hope to be able to hit the ground running for both applications.

“We are going to make every effort to accommodate the timelines because they are short. So, February 15 is the requirement for the Universal Broadband Fund and they haven’t released the CRTC Broadband Fund timeline. We believe it will be about March.”

Infrastructure is also a big portion of bringing rural broadband to the M.D.

In conversations around what was already in place, they were able to nail down some details.

“We also had a lot of feedback throughout the process in relation to the requirements in the municipality for the infrastructure. So, making sure the infrastructure that is put in place for these programs meets the needs for the municipality.”

“There was infrastructure highlighted from tower infrastructure, transport infrastructure, that’s the fibre and main transportation from towers.”

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