Luke Ouellette, Minister for Restructuring and Government Efficiency with the Government of Alberta, said the best gift for his province’s centennial celebrations in September would be the completion of Alberta SuperNet.
Thanks to a new deal between the province and SuperNet’s builders he may get his wish.
To help Alberta complete the network by its September 30 deadline, Bell Canada, along with Calgary-based Axia SuperNet Ltd., recently announced new agreements with the Alberta government. These replace the previous deal signed in 2001.
Fighting over invoicing between Bell and Axia under the old deal delayed SuperNet’s construction.
But those issues have all been resolved, and in less than three months, SuperNet, a province-wide, high-speed broadband network is expected to be fully functional.
SuperNet will link approximately 4,200 government offices, health facilities, libraries and schools in 429 Alberta communities.
Under the old agreement the Alberta government would have taken outright ownership of SuperNet once construction was complete, according to Stephen Wetmore, group president of national markets for Bell Canada.
Under the new deal, however, the government has an Indefeasible Right of Use (IRU) over the network. The IRU transforms the Alberta government’s 10-year contract with Bell and Axia to a 40-year deal.
“[IRUs give you] all the benefits of ownership, but not the risks,” said Ouellette. He said at the end of the contract – or if service standards from Bell or Axia are not met – the government can assume ownership of the network.
As well, the operating agreement between the three parties was changed to a focus on revenue generation. The more users the Government of Alberta gets onto SuperNet, the less the government will pay for its hook-ups to the network. Axia and Bell will share in a portion of the revenue.
“The most significant thing about [SuperNet] is the rural portion of the province will be connected to a broadband network,” said Ouellette. Without SuperNet, he said, capabilities such as video conferencing and voice over IP would not be available to smaller communities with less than 100 people.
According to Ouellette, rural Canada’s population has been declining over the years while urban areas have been growing. Projects like SuperNet, he said, are part of a federal government initiative to help Canada’s rural communities.
Wetmore noted that the SuperNet infrastructure allows a person in rural Alberta to enjoy the same broadband capability as someone in Calgary or Madrid.
Bell is providing more than 12,000 kilometres of fibre and the infrastructure – such as wireless towers – necessary to operate SuperNet.
Getting so much fibre to so many communities was a daunting task, both for Bell and the province. There were roadways, rivers, mountains, oil patch and native lands, said Wetmore. “Trying to get right of way [was a] monumental exercise.”
In 27 of Alberta’s largest communities, SuperNet will be deployed over a Bell-owned and operated network, while Axia will connect 402 smaller communities to the new network. In addition, Axia has service level agreements with the government to manage the network-operating centre.
As for what Ouellette and Wetmore called “the last mile”, it is up to ISPs such as Shaw or Telus to provide connectivity either through fibre lines or wirelessly, they said.
Construction of the Alberta SuperNet began in July of 2001 and Ouellette is confident that 95 per cent of the province’s communities will be connected to it by the end of September this year.