Satellite Internet program to benefit central Albertans

GET CONNECTED Government partners with Xplornet to waive distance installation fees to encourage more people to go online

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With the announcement of another potential 4,600 homes that will be able to connect to high-speed Internet, the Alberta government is getting closer to its target of having 98 per cent of homes in the province able to access broadband services.

The qualified residences, located in rural central Alberta, are eligible to have the standard installation distance charge of about $150 waived. The government is partnering with Xplornet Communications Inc., which will provide 4G satellite Internet connections to those residents who sign up for the service.

“What this is really about is breaking down some of the barriers to adoption in rural and remote Alberta,” said Bill Macdonald, vice-president of business development for Xplornet.

Affordability has been one of those barriers with the distance installation fees, but the partnership with the provincial government means the company can offer a basic installation and activation fee.

“It costs the same if you are less than 25 kilometres from a dealer or if you’re 150 kilometres,” Macdonald said. “The max it will be for activation will be $200.”

A changing area

Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar said with advancing technology and growing communities the strategy now is to pinpoint remote areas that need connectivity. “This program is geared towards families living in low-density, remote areas of Alberta,” he said. This program is the second phase of the Final Mile Rural Connectivity Initiative. Last year, Bhullar and then-agriculture minister Evan Berger announced the up to $5-million Final Mile Rural Community Program, which invited communities and other local governments to submit their plans to increase high-speed Internet access in their municipalities to be considered for funding.

Bhullar said decisions on that community project will be announced in the spring. Between that program and the second phase for central Alberta, they’ll consider what areas are left and what future phases of the project will look like. He said the second phase of waiving the distance fee will cost up to $900,000.

Pinpointingplaces for coverage

The overall rural Internet access initiative has been part of government policy and election promises for a number of years. Recent predecessors to the Final Mile Rural Connectivity Initiative included the Rural Connections: Community Broadband Infrastructure Pilot Program and the Rural Community Adaptation Grant Program, both of which wrapped up funding applications in 2010.

Bhullar said there’s been a shift from programs with “broad strokes” to efforts like the Final Mile that are striving to “pinpoint” areas that need help to get access. “I think previous programs, they were looking to connect a higher volume of people because at that time there were more communities, larger communities that didn’t have access,” he said.

The assessment that will follow the central Alberta effort includes looking at a north and south Alberta satellite solution, terrestrial-based solutions and infill. “Those are all areas we’re currently studying,” Bhullar said. He’s hoping with the addition of up to 4,600 homes to the roster of those who can connect to high-speed Internet, Alberta’s rate of access will get closer to the set target. “I’m hoping it will get us close to that 97 to 98 per cent,” he said.

Central Alberta homeowners can check their eligibility for the program online at www.servicealberta.ca or by calling 1-888-777-4010.

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