New Brunswick spends $44.6 million on broadband push

The province of New Brunswick plans to join other provinces that are extending broadband access to rural users through a $44.6-million project involving the federal government and the private sector.

Aliant on Monday said it had already went live with approximately 53 of the planned 24,000 sites that will be served through the network rollout, which is intended to benefit 10,000 homes, 95 per cent of businesses and 15 First Nations communities. The project is expected to be completed by March of next year.

The federal government, through Industry Canada, will contribute $16.6 million on the project, with $4 million going towards the First Nations sites. New Brunswick will contribute $12.5 million and Aliant will invest $15.6 million. 

Business New Brunswick spokeswoman Sarah Ketcheson said the project will provide a more level playing field for many companies that set up headquarters in Atlantic Canada.

“It used to be that you would compete with a company in your own province,” she said, adding that the goal is to give local firm the tech savvy to compete with rivals in Asia or Europe and create New Brunswick’s exports. “Every step we take along this road will improve that.”

Several provinces, such as Saskatchewan, have been offering some level of broadband access to remote communities for several years while others, such as Alberta, have seen their broadband projects mired in setbacks and delays. Unlike Alberta, whose planned SuperNet will be based upon an expensive fibre-optic network, New Brunswick is sticking with DSL, said Aliant vice-president of broadband and marketing Heather Tulk.

“It is definitelt the most stable and secure technology,” she said. “It’s also the most cost-effective when you’re looking at an area with the kind of population density that we have here.”

Tulk said she expects to see a number of businesses will use broadband applications to boost productivity, while others will use the service to expand their service offering. Aliant recently launched a service with a local firm called Adventus, for example, which allows users to take piano lessons via distance education direct from the Maritime Conservatory of Music.

Ketcheson said it has been critical to get schools the broadband they need. “Sometimes school may be the only way kids will have that access,” she said. “(The network rollout) means advances in health care, it means advanced in education . . .it has implications across everything we do.”

Some sites require a more extensive build than others, Tulk pointed out, and the go-live date for other sites will depend on previous projects in the area. Although DSL is the chosen technology for now, Aliant has also recently begun a fibre to the home trial project in Halifax, which may include multi-dwelling units.

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