Bell Intrigna scores major Alberta contract

Vancouver’s Telus Communications could be the big winner in the province of Alberta’s pursuit to connect its rural communities with a high-speed broadband network, despite losing a tight bidding battle for the contract to build the network to upstart competitor Bell Intrigna.

Alberta’s Minister of Innovation and Science Lorne Taylor announced last month that it has awarded the $193 million contract to a consortium lead by competitive local exchange carrier Bell Intrigna, an off-shoot of Bell Canada that competes in the western provinces. But in order to meet the province’s goal of connecting 420 rural communities within three years, it expects Bell Intrigna to create and build the network infrastructure “through a combination of leasing existing fibre lines – ones currently in use as well as lines that have not yet been activated – and by installing fibre optic cable lines to areas that do not have high-speed broadband service.”

As Bell Intrigna’s network is not yet extensive in the West, it appears likely that the company will end up becoming a wholesale customer of Telus, said Iain Grant, a telecommunications analyst with The Yankee Group in Canada in Brockville, Ont.

“Bell will be purchasing, at least in the short term, much of their facilities from Telus,” Grant suggested.

The province of Alberta added that incumbent players like Telus and Shaw Communications could also benefit through potential revenue from a “new and extended customer base.”

The government will be the anchor tenant of the proposed high-speed “SUPERNET” network, as it connects every hospital, school, library and government facility in the province, but officials hope service providers will use these fibre optic points of presence to build and market high bandwidth solutions to homes and businesses in the area.

Alberta’s Axia/Netmedia will be responsible for the management and maintenance on the extended area network. The company will also ensure that any company wanting to buy into the network can do so to help provide Internet or telecommunications services to communities across the province.

The province was careful not to promise any specific throughput speeds that will be available on the network, but analysts believe the fibre connections will allow for 10Mbps to 100Mbps Internet service to the government’s institutions.

“Pursuits such as this are precisely what is going to empower rural Canada,” Grant said. “It gives the same access to high-speed services in rural Canada that we now have in the cities.”

Despite some recent criticism levied against former federal Industry Canada Minister John Manley for his recent announcement of a task force to study a similar high-speed cross-Canada network, Grant said governments have been left with no choice but to get involved in connecting the country with Internet access.

“If private companies really wanted to be in Pilot Mound, Manitoba, I’m sure they’d be beating a path there,” he cracked. “I think there’s certainly a role for governments to extend those networks to areas where the commercial worth would not dictate that it be a priority.”

Cisco Systems, Microsoft Corp., Brampton, Ont.’s Nortel Networks Corp. and Vancouver’s 360networks make up the Bell Intrigna consortium, along with Alberta companies TotalTelcom, Wi-Lan Inc. and Netricom.

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