An $8.1 million financing deal between the Canada Infrastructure Bank and an Alberta First Nation-led company will help connect an estimated 24 Alberta communities to new high-speed internet infrastructure.
In a Thursday news release, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) said construction has already begun to connect underserved households in 20 Indigenous and four rural communities to the new internet service. The agreement is part of its Indigenous Community Infrastructure Initiative, which offers loans to Indigenous infrastructure projects.
Alberta-based Arrow Technology Group will be in charge of construction, installation, operations and maintenance of the new service, promising speeds of 50-300 Mbps and unlimited data.
Monica Burman, a spokeswoman for Arrow, told Postmedia Saturday the specific community projects to benefit from the loan are yet to be announced, but the loan will ensure the company can do more than one large project at a time.
“(This) will allow us to complete many projects at once, in multiple communities,” Burman said.
According to Arrow’s website, the company already supplies broadband services to 73 communities across Alberta, 49 of which are First Nations communities or Metis settlements, and 24 of which are rural towns.
It lists future fiber-optic projects, set to provide services better than broadband, directly to residential homes this year in Whitefish #128 (Goodfish) First Nation, Louis Bull Tribe, Child Lake 164A, Boyer River 164, Peerless Trout First Nation, Garden River – Little Red River Cree Nation, John D’Or Prairie – Little Red River Cree Nation, and Fox Lake – Little Red River Cree Nation.
While the Alberta government has announced $390 million over four years towards access to high-speed internet with its Alberta Broadband strategy, Burman confirmed Arrow’s projects under the CIB loan are not receiving money from the province.
The CIB financing comes on top of grants from the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund Rapid Response Stream, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Broadband Fund and the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Connect to Innovate program.
The Indigenous communities benefiting from the broadband include First Nations from Treaty 8 and Treaty 6, as well as Métis Settlements, marking the CIB’s first investment towards addressing infrastructure gaps within Métis communities.
George Arcand Jr., Chief of Alexander First Nation, said that providing access to the same resources and opportunities as the rest of Alberta can mean a brighter future for those who have been left behind.
“The internet has the power to equalize access to resources and knowledge for Indigenous communities. The success of these projects, enabled by the Canada Infrastructure Bank and Arrow Technology Group, will have a lasting impact,” he said in the release.
The provincial government has estimated that about 489,000 Albertans living in 201,000 households lack access to federal target speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.
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About 80 per cent of Indigenous communities and 67 per cent of rural and remote communities do not have access to reliable, high-speed internet.
Ehren Cory, CEO of the CIB said in its release the financing will create new economic opportunities and support public services like health and education.
Randy Boissonnault, federal Liberal Tourism Minister, Associate Finance Minister, and Edmonton Center MP, said high-speed internet isn’t a luxury, but a need.
“More and more services are now online, and a reliable connection is needed for all Canadians to access government services, pay bills, and talk to family and friends,” he said in the release.