Slow to connect, rural Alberta town opts to provide its own high-speed internet

If you can see the grain elevator, you can get high-speed internet in Viking.

If you can see the Providence grain elevator, you can get high-speed internet in Viking

The Town of Viking brought in its own high-speed internet after years of waiting for the province to move forward on the proposal. (Town of Viking/Facebook)

People in Viking will be able to connect to the world more quickly now that the town has become its own high-speed internet provider.

On Friday, staff in the Alberta town will install an Internet antenna on a local grain elevator. 

When it's hooked up, residents will be able to sign up for high-speed internet at home, by paying an added fee on their bi-monthly water utility bill. 

The town, about 135 km southeast of Edmonton, decided to make the switch after growing frustrated with the slow pace of government initiatives and the high cost of private providers, said Viking chief administration officer Don McLeod. 

"The government has been promising for years to get high-speed internet out to rural communities in Alberta and nothing has happened," McLeod told CBC's Radio Active

A 2018 report from Service Alberta promised to develop a provincial broadband strategy for Alberta by the end of the year; it has yet to provide a plan.

The same report found that fewer than 13 per cent of communities in Alberta have sufficiently fast high-speed internet. 

The CRTC minimum target broadband speed for Canadians is 50 Mbps (megabits per second). McLeod said some residents in Viking currently have an internet download speed of five Mbps. 

The town office piloted the new high-speed service at a rate up to 20 times faster.

"We deal with lots of drawings for our projects, so when we're dealing with our engineers it's quite critical that we get everything uploaded quickly," he said.

"Rather than taking 20 minutes or half an hour to download something, now we're getting it done in seconds."

Look for the grain elevator

The town website proclaims: "If you can see the Providence grain elevator you can get internet service from us."

The tower is the highest point in the small community and can be viewed 10 km from town. Farmers who live outside the town will also be able to connect to the signal. 

The proposal for Viking to install its own infrastructure came from Nutec Electro Tel, the Camrose-based IT company the town recently hired.

In the city that's old hat, but for us it's major.- Don McLeod, town of Viking CAO

McLeod said the town had previously approached its former internet provider Telus about upgrading to high speed, but decided against it when the company quoted a cost of $80,000.

Instead, the town is buying bandwidth directly from Axia Bell at a cost of $800 per month. 

Infrastructure costs were also minimal, McLeod said, since the town library had already installed fibre optic cables as part of an initiative to bring high-speed internet to rural libraries.

At a minimal cost, the new service could mean an economic boost for the community.

"Businesses are looking for that high speed, and businesses need that high speed. So that's just one more attraction to move to the town of Viking," McLeod said. 

"Our download speeds are approaching 100 megabits, which is phenomenal out here," he said. "In the city that's old hat, but for us it's major."

With files from Julia Lipscombe