Bell West expands Alberta SuperNet with fibre purchase

Western Canadian-based service provider Bell West has purchased six fibre lines in Alberta from broadband network owner/operator Total Telcom, taking another step towards completing its SuperNet Network. The network is aiming to provide broadband services to most businesses and residences in the province.

The six dark fibres, which stretch for 473 kilometres, run northwest between Edmonton and Grand Prairie, Alta. Under the agreement, Total will maintain the lines for at least 20 years. Bell West plans to use the lines to provide inter-exchange transport connectivity between the two cities.

The brainchild of the Alberta provincial government, SuperNet is being designed to link 4,700 hospitals, libraries, schools and provincial government offices in 422 communities across the province. It is scheduled to be completed in 2004.

Brian Olafson, vice-president, SuperNet project with Bell West, said the company set out some detailed plans that make it confident of completing the network by the July 2004 deadline. A pilot section was constructed between Calgary and Red Deer, Alta. and is operational with 44 users. During the rest of this construction season, Bell West will lay as much as 1,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable to create 18 additional sections.

“To build a network of this type, you have to build a backbone network, and we have Edmonton-Calgary operational. The deal we signed…with Total Telcom will give us the backbone from Edmonton to Grand Prairie, which will be implemented in the next few months,” he said. “The next one we are looking at is Calgary to Medicine Hat (Alta.).”

Olafson says Bell West will look at signing service agreements with other network operators to use their existing cable, instead of laying their own. The Alberta government had requested Bell West approach other operators to see if service deals could be reached, he added.

Bell West plans to use wireless technology in as many as 70 communities in the province. Instead of laying cable to each business and residence, one cable line is located in a central area of a community equipped with a transmitter and a receiver is provided to the service user.

“They are doing it (the SuperNet project) in a very cost-efficient way with the use of base stations,” Lo stated. “It would get quite costly to run a fibre cable up to each farm,” said Kevin Lo, a Calgary-based investment analyst with Lightyear Capital Inc.

Lo says similar type projects, to provide high-speed Internet access to rural communities, has been undertaken in both Northern Ontario and Korea.

The only difficulty Lo had with the project was if it would ever become profitable. He feels that the government may have to subsidize it for a number of years.

“The question is, how long before it will become profitable?” Lo questioned.

The Alberta government will provide businesses and residence with access to the SuperNet at current market rates.

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