Alta. program aims to fill rural high-speed gaps

The Alberta government has set up a $5 million fund to help try to close any high-speed internet service gaps remaining in rural areas of the province.

"This is about kids who want to research homework, families that want to stay connected and farmers and ranchers who want to market their products," provincial Agriculture Minister Evan Berger said Monday, announcing what’s been dubbed the Final Mile Rural Connectivity Initiative.

"Municipalities are key to the solutions. They know the challenges, they have ideas. Working together we will see more households with access to a critical service."

About six per cent or 72,000 households in rural Alberta are without access to high-speed Internet service, the province said Monday.

The initiative includes a $5 million Final Mile Rural Community Program, in which local governments who plan to provide high-speed Internet in their communities are to be invited to apply for provincial funding to "support or expedite" said plans.

High-speed Internet infrastructure projects such as towers, equipment and technology, fibre optic cable, wireless equipment, installation costs and radio license fees are eligible to receive Final Mile Rural Community Program funding for up to 75 per cent of eligible project costs.

The program application deadline is March 31 this year.

The province said it will also work with municipalities looking for other options by working with Internet providers to get connectivity to rural households through the "most effective and efficient technologies available" such as wireless, mobile sticks, satellite or leveraging off the Alberta SuperNet.

The province said it would also look to develop an "infill" program for Albertans in served areas who are "still without access due to geographical challenges."

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