One of the key items identified as a priority in the recently conducted regional collaboration project (2015-16) was rural broadband, and in particular the challenges associated not only with updating existing infrastructure and ensuring quality and quantity of provision, but also the programming gap that often exists for rural communities. As service providers continue to provide differential levels of service to rural areas, and governments examine the effects of hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, identifying high-impact and multi-benefit opportunities for broadband investment and programming is an emergent and yet critical issue for rural businesses, economic developers and community development. As studies such as Lobo (2011) and Ivus & Boland (2014) demonstrate, the positive economic effects of rural broadband are not universal (in fact, in Canada they fall almost exclusively into services, with no real effects upon producers of goods), and can also come at a cost (rural benefits correspond to a loss in urban areas), yet we have only a limited understanding of
- Exactly how rural broadband initiatives function as an inter-sectoral intervention in rural development;
- How regionalized vs. provincial and localized (municipal) initiatives intersect with (1);
- How different levels of policy-making (local, regional and provincial) can be pursued and adopt not only infrastructure but also programming in order to maximize the benefits noted by Ivus and Boland (2014).
This project will build upon the regional focus of the 2015-16 project, and will focus on the 3 questions noted above, with a specific emphasis upon the regional and intersectoral effects of rural broadband. Specifically, this project will undertake a scoping review and consultations in order to inventory, assess and validate the following questions:
- What are the different sectors in Alberta that can benefit most (or generate the most benefits) from investment in rural broadband and related programming?
- What are the extant and most effective models for engaging and developing rural broadband programming at the/a regional level?
- What evaluation frameworks exist for rural regions to assess and determine both the priorities for investment/support, and the effects of such investments (preferably across sectors)?
Project completion is June 2017.
Rural Broadband: Policy Recommendations for Improving Broadband Access & Adoption in Rural Alberta