An Alberta First Nation-led company bringing new internet infrastructure to 24 communities

In Alberta, an estimated 489,000 Albertans living in 201,000 households do not meet the federal speed target of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

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An $8.1 million financing deal between the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and an Alberta First Nation-led company will help connect about 24 Alberta communities to new high-speed internet infrastructure.

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The Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) said in a press release Thursday that construction has already begun to connect disadvantaged 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.

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Alberta-based Arrow Technology Group will be responsible for building, installing, operating and maintaining the new service, promising speeds of 50-300 Mbps and unlimited data.

Arrow spokeswoman Monica Boorman told Postmedia on Saturday that specific community projects to use the loan have yet to be announced, but the loan will ensure the company can do more than one large project at a time.

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“(This) will allow us to do multiple projects in multiple communities at once,” Boorman said.

According to Arrow’s website, the company already provides broadband service to 73 communities in Alberta, 49 of which are First Nations or Métis communities and 24 are rural towns.

It lists future fiber optic projects that will provide better service than broadband this year, directly to residences 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 for high-speed Internet access under its Alberta Broadband Strategy, Boorman confirmed that Arrow’s projects do not receive money from the province under the CIB loan.

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Funding for the CIB comes from the federal government’s Universal Broadband Fund Rapid Response Stream, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Broadband Fund, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Connect to Innovation grants.

Indigenous communities using broadband include Treaty 8 and Treaty 6 First Nations, as well as Métis Settlements, marking CIB’s first contribution to addressing infrastructure gaps in Métis communities.

Alexander First Nation Chief George Arcand Jr. said providing access to the same resources and opportunities as the rest of Alberta could mean a brighter future for those left behind.

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“The Internet can equalize access to resources and knowledge for indigenous communities. The success of these projects by the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and Arrow Technology Group will have a lasting impact,” he said in a release.

The provincial government has estimated that about 489,000 Albertans living in 201,000 households do not meet the federal speed target of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.

About 80 percent of indigenous communities and 67 percent of rural and remote communities lack access to reliable, high-speed Internet.

CIB Executive Director Eren Corey said in a release that the funding will create new economic opportunities and support public services such as health and education.

Randy Boissonneau, federal Liberal tourism minister, deputy finance minister and Edmonton Center MP, said high-speed Internet is not a luxury, but a necessity.

“More and more services are now online, and all Canadians need a reliable connection to access government services, pay bills and chat with family and friends,” it said.

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