Does Kneehill County have bad internet? Some councillors want to know

·4 min read

Kneehill County will move forward in a partnership to examine the quality of internet service within the municipality. The decision came after a 5 to 2 vote at the regular council meeting April 27.

Councillors heard an update on the Kneehill Regional Partnership’s regional broadband internet study from Jacqueline Buchanan, economic development officer.

The regional broadband project popped up at the partnerships’ meetings in November 2021 and is now proposed to proceed with a first phase, and possibly two more depending on how Phase I develops.

Buchanan reported she was requesting the $2,000 set aside for Phase I of this project, with the phase based around information collection and education which will “...determine the needs and desired outcomes of the regional partners to identify the direction of the broadband study.”

Some of the information sought would include what deliverables are desired, study scope, what professional support needed, what information gaps exist and what broadband service gaps are each community facing?”

“Though we know that connectivity in the Kneehill region is lacking, an investigation of the current state of broadband is required in order to determine where our gaps in service are so that we can identify long term solutions to improve connectivity,” stated Buchanan's report. She noted the partnership already approved Phase I.

Buchanan explained Phase II would be, “...the undertaking of the regional broadband study where gaps and opportunities are presented (partnerships, infrastructure development, existing internet service providers etc.),” while Phase III would be, “budget development and implementation of deliverables identified in the broadband study. This phase will include any required engineering and infrastructure development.”

She added those phases would be on the table if Phase I determined the project to be viable and estimated that, if they went ahead, Phase II could be completed by the end of this year while Phase III wouldn’t occur until 2023.

Buchanan stated Phase I is estimated to cost no more than $10,000 even if extra help is required and the county had already set aside its share of $2,000.

Coun. Carrie Fobes asked if this study will help Kneehill County access provincial funds recently announced for broadband projects, to which Buchanan answered yes, a study like this one will help determine if infrastructure is needed, then the county can apply for those funds.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham asked if Phase I can be done locally. Machell-Cunningham stated she spoke to someone locally about this and was assured, “...most of the infrastructure was there.” Buchanan answered, “Phase I will be completely local.”

Coun. Fobes answered if this project will improve on what the Rural Municipalities Association (RMA) is already collecting. Buchanan answered as far as she knows RMA’s data is only going to the federal mapping system and there are still “...a lot of holes on the map.”

Reeve Jerry Wittstock stated it’s unfortunate that because one site in Kneehill County has adequate broadband then some assume all sites have it.

Coun. Ken King asked if all members of the partnership have agreed to move forward with this project and Buchanan answered the partnership’s meeting minutes state all members have done so.

King followed that up by asking if expenses on this study increase, do all members share the cost?

Buchanan answered the partnership agreed that if expenses increase all partners will pay an equal share.

King wanted to clarify that Kneehill County is the lead on this project. Buchanan confirmed the county is taking the lead and that members will contribute 15 hours of work while Kneehill will contribute 80 hours of work.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated the study is important because the county needs accurate data on broadband service across the municipality.

Coun. Machell-Cunningham asked if the provincial government is making this study, in effect, mandatory. Buchanan answered yes, provincial funding will only be granted for shovel-ready projects which this study will accommodate.

Councillors approved, by a 5 to 2 vote, allocating $2,000 from the corporate initiatives fund for the Kneehill regional partnership Broadband Project Phase I study. Machell-Cunningham and Fobes voted against the motion.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review

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