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Big bucks from broadband, says EMRB

Better Internet could add $1 billion to region
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The Edmonton region could add $1 billion more to its economy if it teams up to speed up its internet, suggests a new report.

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board accepted the broadband situation analysis report at a meeting Aug. 13.

The report looks at the state of internet access in the capital region and the potential economic impacts of improvements to it.

“Broadband connectivity is absolutely and fundamentally essential to the Region’s long-term social and economic prosperity,” the report found, especially as e-commerce and new technologies such as autonomous vehicles take hold.

While Edmonton and its urban neighbours generally have decent download speeds, the report found rural areas lag significantly behind. Sturgeon County has the lowest maximum advertised speeds on average in the region at 25 megabits per second – roughly half the CRTC’s target of 50 Mbps.

Downloading big bucks

An economic analysis in the report found the Edmonton region could add up to $412 million to its GDP per year if it achieves 50 Mbps download speeds region-wide, or about $1 billion if it reaches 100 Mbps. Sturgeon County would see a 1.17-per-cent increase to GDP (about $18.81 million a year) with 100 Mbps speeds, the report found.

The report estimated broadband services such as telecommuting could reduce vehicle trips in the Edmonton region by about 10 per cent, preventing some 300,000 tonnes (about 70,000 cars) worth of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Broadband could also reduce the need for hospital admissions through virtual doctors' visits and improve farm productivity through precision agriculture.

Sturgeon County’s internet access is spotty in many regions as it is based on line-of-sight towers, explained Mayor Alanna Hnatiw. It has too few people to justify investment by internet providers, and is too close to the high-speed region that is Edmonton to qualify for federal broadband grants.

The report found St. Albert has done much to improve broadband access through its Smart City Master Plan and efforts to run fibre optics to traffic signals and along major roads, but still has poor speeds in its industrial parks. Morinville businesses theoretically have high-speed access, but also face costs of up to $100,000 to get it.

The report called on area governments to create a common regional strategy for broadband development, one that would aim to achieve download speeds of up to and beyond 10 gigabits per second in the Edmonton region by 2025. This could involve creating Crown corporations or municipally owned data networks.

Hnatiw said Sturgeon County is now doing regional speed tests as part of its own broadband improvement plans. Regional governments could improve download speeds by pooling their cash to invest in new infrastructure and creating common policies (such as requiring fibre optic lines to be run to new neighbourhoods at the same time you lay the pipes for them).

The report can be found in the agenda package for the Aug. 13 meeting at emrb.ca.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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