Town of High River To Operate High-Speed Internet Utility

With the Town of High River now having passed the 2018 budget, municipal officials also announced the investment and implementation of high-speed broadband (fiber optics) Internet access.

Businesses in town will have the opportunity to access services at speeds 100 times greater than what is currently offered, as quoted from a media release.

The five year capital project comes with a $685,720 price tag and will operate as a revenue generator for the town, as the broadband—under a fee-for-service model—will be part of municipal utilities.

Jodi Dawson, manager of economic development, expressed how critical the upcoming service is.

“The availability of affordable high speed fiber optics will support and attract knowledge-based businesses that have a critical dependency on high speed broadband,” she said.

The open infrastructure, provided by the Town of High River, can be used by any provider to deliver services to customers, the statement continued.

As of May 2017, the municipality was working alongside IBI Group in order for them to provide a strategy and business plan, a first step in the development of the broadband initiative, officials said.

“IBI Group also conducted market surveys and performed bandwidth testing to assess the availability and speed of current connections to businesses in town,” as quoted in the statement.

Businesses also learned more about the project through a town hall, the release added. The release stated town officials received the IBI Group report in July 2017.

“A detailed review of an outsource alternative to O-Net, a broadband services provider within the Town of Olds, Alta. was conducted and additional financial modelling was performed,” the release said.

Dawson said slow Internet speeds had affected local business.

“Businesses within the town identified their limited access to high-speed Internet services is an issue that prevents them from being more productive and competitive,” she's quoted as saying.

Thus, Dawson said the town has acted upon its vision to have modern, open telecommunications infrastructure, that which allows providers to deliver high speed Internet to businesses.

Mayor Craig Snodgrass addressed the fiber optics project during the recent luncheon hosted by the High River and District Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 22.

“This is an opportunity we have to learn from what Olds learned in running your own utility like this,” he said, noting High River has chosen to conduct a phased approach with the new service.

Snodgrass said the Town of Olds rolled out their service to Olds College, businesses and residential at the same time. High River will conduct things differently with it being a new initiative, he added.

“We're going to take it a little bit slower than that and learn through downtown and get things set up before (we) start going through the residential piece,” Snodgrass told attendees.

Olds experienced a steep learning curve, as they were one of the first municipalities in North America to take such a project on by themselves, he stressed.

With this initiative, Snodgrass said the town faced a $158,920 year one operational cost. He said council approved a $526,800 capital investment to connect downtown and the southeast industrial area.

“High River thrives on agriculture and health care,” Snodgrass said. “That's our gig. Trying to create something new in this town, we can still do that, but it'll be very hard to do that.”

Dr. Ron Gorsche is working with the town's economic development team, Snodgrass said. Medical specialists working in Calgary want to relocate to High River for operating table access, he said.

“The number one thing they ask is 'what's your connection?'” Snodgrass said, referring to how vital one gigabyte speeds are for multimedia. “'Do you have fiber?' If we don't have fiber, they're not coming.”

Dawson noted companies in the creative, professional, agriculture and technical fields noted high-speed Internet, coupled with the town's assets, makes High River attractive for business.

“These services would also be available to residential dwellings physically located within or in close proximity to the business districts,” she's quoted as saying in the release.

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