The Alberta Party has slammed the government’s missing-in-action rural internet strategy, saying there seems to be no political will to get it done.
Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson wants to know why the government is dragging its heels on the crucial service for rural Albertans, and worries there will be no strategy in place before the 2019 election.
Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson was not made available for an interview, but told Postmedia in July Albertans could expect to see a plan in the fall.
Government spokesperson Kate Toogood said in an email that consultations concluded less than two months ago and work on the strategy is still underway.
“We expect to share further details in the near future. We understand that demand, speed, and performance expectations for broadband are increasing, and we look forward to unveiling a solution that will ensure all Albertans have quality, affordable internet access,” she wrote.
McPherson doesn’t think that’s good enough.
“Even though I’m a city mouse, this is really important to our province and really important to what we say we value,” she said in an interview.
McPherson, who previously worked in information technology, said the lack of a rural internet plan means missed opportunities for economic development, social connections and generally keeping up with the rest of the world.
“I think farmers are important and I believe our First Nations need the opportunity to be able to make things better … (but without) good, reliable internet, it’s not going to happen and those opportunities are going to get further and further away,” she said.
The province’s $1-billion Supernet, which provides internet in rural areas, came under fire from Alberta’s auditor general Doug Wylie in November.
The high-speed internet service, which was first announced in 2001 and completed in 2005, connects to schools, hospitals, libraries and government offices. Since its launch, the service hasn’t been monitored effectively, Wylie said Wednesday.
McPherson said Supernet itself is a great idea, but doesn’t go far enough.
“It doesn’t incentivize the service providers locally to go the last kilometre to people’s doorstep, so that’s an obstacle,” she said.
“There’s no business case for somebody to go into a small town. They’re not going to make money off a town of 400 people, but those 400 people still require this service in order to be able to fully participate in the society and economy we have now.”
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