Construction of high-speed internet infrastructure will begin in 2022 for Anzac, Conklin, Janvier and Gregoire Lake Estates.
More details are expected to be announced by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo next week. The news was confirmed by the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC) and Councillor Jane Stroud, who represents the four hamlets south of Fort McMurray.
“I think Anzac will be very happy, I was at a council meeting on Tuesday and lost my internet, so we are all challenged in the rural hamlets,” said Stroud. “It really showed up in COVID and there has been a big push forward [for internet access]. I think people will be very happy to see this moving forward.”
COVID-19 shutdowns heightened the need for reliable internet, particularly in rural areas that have often lagged behind cities and larger communities. CRDAC board member Valerie Quintal said improved internet access is a necessity in communities like Conklin.
“I think it will be a game changer. Not everyone has access to the internet and many people rely on their phones with limited data,” said Quintal. “For local business, for health care, and for our schools, it will really benefit every aspect of our community.”
Internet speeds in rural communities outside Fort McMurray can be as much as 80 percent slower than within city limits. As schools in the region shifted online during the pandemic, this meant an increased reliance on technology for school-aged children. Shelly Janvier, an early learning childcare consultant for Treaty 8 and Chipewyan Prairie First Nation (CPFN), limited internet access hurts the learning experience for children.
“We wanted to try to do some form of live classes and have the kids have Chromebooks to work with at home, but it wasn’t going to work well because either the internet was not reliable or the parents just didn’t have it,” said Janvier. “[Internet access] is definitely going to open up more doors for them, with more information and more for the technical side of things. It’s going to make a huge difference in homes.”
In March, the federal government announced more than $5.4 million in funding for high-speed internet projects for rural homes in northern, central and southern Alberta. Telus has contributed an extra $3.7 million. The government estimates these projects will connect 5,080 underserved households to high-speed internet.
The federal government's 2021 budget includes $2.75 billion to the Universal Broadband Fund, setting a national goal of download speeds that are at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 10 Mbps. According to the CRTC, only 45.6 per cent of rural Canada have those speeds.
Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today