SuperNet will equalize rural Alberta, project leader says

TORONTO–Executives from Axia NetMedia Corp. say broadband access is the great equalizer for rural communities and the public sector from across Canada can learn from its SuperNet project.

Drew McNaughton, Axia SuperNet Ltd.

COO, says it is building a fibre-optic and wireless network that will connect more than 400 communities in Alberta. The goal, he says, is to connect every government building.

“”Every school in Alberta, no matter how rural it is, is going to get videoconferencing. That’s the demand being put on this network. So that would be minimum 5Mbps,”” McNaughton says.

Building an enormous pipe to schools and health care facilities is great, but only if they are in a position to take advantage of them. Funding to schools and health care has been slashed and there isn’t a lot of money for building the IT infrastructure needed to take advantage of a broadband network. Art Price, chairman and CEO of Axia, says the network will take care of the problem.

“”A ubiquitous broadband network means you can consolidate your databases and your servers, and there’s huge savings on that as compared to the model they were in,”” Price says. “”The learning minister and the health ministers are all saying, ‘OK, how do we take advantage of this?’ They’re actively in the process of choosing how to leverage the fact that they now have no network to manage.””

Price says he doesn’t view the project as either a broadcast channel upgrade or replacement. He says the broadcast world in all its forms (TV, radio, print, etc.) is very powerful, but it is also one dimensional. What broadband will deliver, he says, is interaction by opening a dialogue. “”The revolution is going to be customers using interactive media tools for what they need to know.””

McNaughton says while all students stand to benefit on an education front, rural communities can now compete for big business. He uses the example of a major American retailer that was looking for a home for its call centre.

“”Neiman Marcus did not have a store in Canada and had a 600 person call centre that had to go into Edmonton. They now can go into High Level. It’s cheaper for them,”” McNaughton says. “”The economic spinoffs of having high-speed broadband will attract that kind of economic development.””

McNaughton says he also expects the project will stem the flow of people heading to Edmonton and Calgary for work, and companies heading out of the province. He says there is a great deal of IT business being conducted in Alberta, but employees have to commute to the major centres to do it.

“”There’s a bunch technology companies that have actually moved out of Alberta to get high-speed access,”” he says.

Axia expects to complete SuperNet in three years.

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