By Paul Krajewski
Town of High River councillors have some decisions to make over the next few months when it comes to providing businesses in the downtown core with high-speed Internet.
At a meeting on July 19, representatives from IBI Group presented council with several broadband pilot models following a $60,000 feasibility study that determined much of the business community was under serviced.
They presented three options: a wholesale model, which involves the town building a dark fibre network and leasing service access to Internet Service Providers (ISP); retail model that would have the town build/service the infrastructure and provide services; or hybrid model where the town would provide services and lease access to outside ISPs.
“I am very interested in the town doing some type of retail model on our own and making the capital investment (in infrastructure) to get this done,” Mayor Craig Snodgrass said, pointing to the success Olds, Alta., has had with investing in dark fibre and provisioning Internet services.
In an interview with the Times, he said this would be the most ideal option as choosing to go with an outside ISP for the entire build is not feasible at this time. The town negotiated with providers in the past, but could not come to an agreement, at least not within a reasonable time frame, he added.
“We’ve been through this with Telus, Shaw and Axia,” he explained. “This has been a three-year investigation working with the different ISPs. The relationship between a municipality and outside ISPs can be very difficult.”
He noted that both Telus and Shaw had previous failed arrangements with the town to invest in dark fibre, leaving Axia as the only one that has proposed to invest in a network if it were to garner a minimum of 30 per cent interest from the town’s prospective clients.
“If we are going to do this anytime soon, it has to be the town that takes this on,” he said. “I personally think it’s the best way to go about it. It can be used as a utility, just like we do water, and become a revenue generator at some point in time.”
Whatever option the town chooses, he said investing in dark fibre is a safe bet. If the pilot fails to produce the results the town wants, it can sell it to an outside ISP.
“The value of the capital investment stays there,” he added.
While Snodgrass said a municipal investment is likely the best route, Coun. Dragan Brankovich told the Times he’s only interested in the results of the pilot and would not speculate as to which one would be most effective.
“(It) comes down to the investment and return,” he said, adding he is open to all options including the possibility of an outside ISP investing in a network and service provision.
“It’s something we need to take a real serious look at and weigh the pros and cons to make a model move forward,” Coun. Cathy Couey explained. “We are in the mindset of moving forward, being progressive and doing things a little differently.”
She said the town has some growth limitations with regards to water and land. However, she noted a project of this scope could be highly beneficial to the community.
“This may be one area where, if we expanded into, it could open up a whole world of economic development for us,” she added. “There aren’t too many businesses nowadays that don’t have some form of Internet services.”
Couey said council is waiting on administration to bring forth more detailed revisions of the models before it can begin to deliberate which one would be the best choice.
She said the topic will return to council in the next few months.
“We need to take a good hard look at that return on investment, what kind of risk we are willing to take on and what the payoff will be,” she explained. “It’s a huge decision and one that we aren’t going to take lightly. It’s one that could have a real benefit down the road.”
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