Alberta town of Vermilion takes matters into its own hands to get high speed internet

Alberta town of Vermilion takes matters into its own hands to get high speed internet

The Internet has come a long way since the days when dial-up was the norm — but for many rural communities in Alberta, it doesn’t feel that way.

Rock Solid Nitrogen is located in Vermilion in eastern Alberta. The company relies on the Internet for almost everything, including maintaining trucks, updating equipment, training staff and, of course, administrative duties.

The problem: an unreliable Internet connection.

“We lose our internet functionality, where we’re located, probably on average four to five times a month,” said President Randy Martin.

“Time cost money in our industry.”

Martin said when the system goes down, it can take hours to get back up and running. He said many customers want real-time data from trucks pumping nitrogen, or a quick turnaround for quotes.

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“So that they can recover it from the manufacturer … that they work for and there are times when the system is down, we have to wait four, five to six days.”

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City of Vermilion CAO Kevin Lucas said the slow internet has affected many businesses.

“We had foreign businesses come to the town of Vermilion and see how they set up their business here, and we couldn’t provide them with the access to the Internet that they needed,” Lucas said.

“Being able to offer (1 Gbps) service to your home at a very affordable price is exactly what this community has been looking for.”

Vermilion does not qualify for federal or provincial government funding because some parts of town do have high speeds. So the town turned to Alberta Broadband Network, a start-up backed by Meridiam and Digital Infrastructure Group.

“The speeds are non-existent,” said Alberta Broadband Network CEO Ken Spaglingar. “A lot of these communities are running on copper-based, potentially a coax-based service, which can’t even come close to the services we provide and come faster.”

Spaglingar said Vermilion is the first community they have partnered with. He said there is not much urgency from the larger companies like Telus and Shaw to invest in smaller centers.

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“The ability to put together a small agile team to offer our services is much easier for us to do than a larger group to come in and navigate.”

Vermilion’s fiber optic cable network is already installed and in use.

“It’s a robust network that’s a very similar style that you’d see in an urban center — downtown Edmonton, downtown Calgary.

“What we do is we try to bridge the digital divide between the urban centers and the rural communities.”

The project cost between $10-15 million to build, and the town contributed $2.4 million.

“For economics that is now a game-changer, Vermillion has the Internet that big business is looking for,” Lucas said.

High speed internet is needed in many rural areas

Cybera is a research and education network that investigates the use of digital technology. Policy adviser Imran Mohiuddin said most cities have access to 50 megabytes per second for download and 10 megabytes per second for upload speed, which is the federal government’s benchmark for high-speed internet.

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“If you look at rural communities, it drops to about 40 per cent, and First Nation communities drop to less than 10 per cent,” he said.

“It’s generally the policeman of what we call the digital divide in Canada.”

Mohiuddin said the way the federal government maps connectivity in Canada to achieve access to their target speeds means there will be pockets in cases like Vermilion.

“There may be a pocket that has access to high-speed internet but a larger section of the community does not, or the speed available may be sufficient to support residential broadband use but not enough to support commercial or industrial use not to support. “

He said it also creates this situation, where communities are not eligible for funding, but at the same time the service providers that are in the area will not build a better network because it is very expensive.

It is not even exclusive to towns and rural communities. Some smaller cities in the province also face this problem.

The city of Brooks is home to nearly 15,000 people, but its internet speed does not meet the needs of residents. The city is also not eligible for funding.

“Because (the government) can find 50 and 10 speeds within the community — but most of our community can’t do that, I think it’s about 70 percent of the community that can’t do that,” City of Brooks’ CAO Alan Martens said.

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“Right now we have a funded partner and that’s Community Network Partners, they work through their parent company Crown Capital (Partners Inc.) So basically our project is just over $20 million – we’re raising $5.8 million of that, they’re more if $15 million of that adds up.”

The internet is being installed by zones and is expected to be fully functional by the end of 2023.

“For communities to compete now, especially on a global scale, you do need to have good internet connectivity. This will enable our businesses to operate anywhere, they will be able to upload it quickly,” said Martens.

“For commerce it will help enormously, they will have no barriers to where and with whom they do business.”

Some Canadians are looking across our borders for reliable internet

Some Canadians are also looking outside the country for their internet needs.

Starlink is an option being explored across Canada, with more people signing up every day. It is a low-orbit satellite internet service provided by Elon Musk’s companies, SpaceX.

SpaceX has more than 3,200 Starlink satellites in orbit, providing high-speed broadband internet to remote corners of the world

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All the hardware – self-aligned dish, mounts and cables – is shipped directly from the US company to customers at a cost of around $800. As long as it has a clear view of the sky, most remote properties can access the high-speed Internet. The service itself costs $140 per month.

The service has caught the attention of some provincial governments: in May, Quebec said it would invest $50 million to get Starlink to about 10,000 remote homes in the province by the end of September. The houses are located far from the province’s fiber optic cable network.

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Then in July, Nova Scotia offered about 3,700 rural homes and businesses a one-time rebate of up to $1,000 to get satellite Internet, saying Starlink was the only company that could meet the required minimum download and upload speed targets set by the Canadian Radio-television – and telecommunications commission.

Other providers were welcome to participate in the rebate program once they met the minimum requirements of 50 megabytes per second for download and 10 megabytes per second for upload.

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Amazon also plans to launch the first of its Internet satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early next year.

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– With files from The Canadian Press

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