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Photo by Mariah Wilson

Internet should be publicly owned and provided in Alberta

By Garrett Wachoski-Dark, January 10, 2018 —

Everybody knows that Alberta’s telecommunication companies suck. Even those managing these companies know that the fees they charge are outrageous, as demonstrated by the recent price wars between Telus and Shaw. The only difference between them and us is that the managers usually make enough money to access better services.

Colorado municipalities have recently been in the news for exploring publicly provided broadband internet. This is nothing new. In fact, it started almost seven years ago in the city of Longmont, which provided one gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds for $50 a month. For comparison, the United States company Comcast provides 25 megabits per second (Mbps) speeds for the same price, but forty times slower.

These developments are not only arising in the U.S. In Canada, the real hero is Olds, Alberta. The town, an hour north of Calgary, emblazoned with a giant “S,” is our internet saviour.

Canada has made some major internet advances since 2013, when we were told we have “almost third-world internet” by Netflix, but we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we no longer lag behind Moldova, largely regarded as the poorest country in Europe. We now sit below the U.S., and above the French island of Réunion, 2000 kilometres off the coast of Africa.

But these gains are skewed since the values are averages, meaning that only the roughly 20 per cent of Canadians who can afford download speeds greater than 15 Mbps skew our average up. The very fortunate few are getting even higher than that.

The reality is that the majority of the country has atrocious internet speeds, or in some cases, no connectivity at all.

Residents of Olds were tired of paying the same price as the gluttons of Calgary and Edmonton for subpar services, so they built their own broadband internet called O-Net. Now Olds residents get 1 Gbps internet speeds for the same price that Calgarians would pay for 150 Mbps speeds.

We should bring this idea of publicly owned and developed high-speed internet not only to Calgary and Edmonton, but also to towns like Sundre, Lac la Biche, Ponoka and even those living near the border of the Northwest Territories.

I can already hear the counter-arguments. “But it will cost too much money for the public!” “My taxes will rise!” “The government will be watching me!”

Telus began through the privatization of Alberta Government Telephones, who provided all the necessary telephone infrastructure in the province through taxpayer dollars. We can thank the Progressive Conservatives for spawning what is as close to a modern-world devil as I can imagine.

Moreover, your tax dollars continue to fund this multi-billion-dollar telecom oligopoly through grants sanctioned by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Where do those millions of dollars go? Not to running lines to your grandma’s house down in Manyberries.

There is always hesitation about government-provided services because there is certainly merit to competition. But telecommunications competition is already significantly hampered by legislation directed by various lobbying groups. The repeal of U.S. net neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission, the marionette of telecom lobbies, is a great example of this. Why should Albertans trust those same greed machines here in Canada?

Are you okay with the costs of the service continuing to fall to the public sector while the profits stay in the private sector? I know I’m not, especially for this pathetic quality of service.

Citizens have the loudest voice at the municipal level, and thus the most direct influence. What is happening in Colorado is amazing and what happened in Olds shows that Albertans are ready for change. Until then, speaking vocally about the shortcomings of our current providers is vital.

This article was written and researched at an average Internet speed of 30 Mbps, on an $80 monthly plan.

 

Articles published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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