Monday, November 17, 2008

Alberta Government's Social Responsibilities

The traditional business case to provide broadband breaks down in underserved areas where the population densities are lower and the broadband costs exceed subscription revenues. To provide affordable broadband service in rural communities, it is necessary to develop a sustainable economic model that proves the business case for a three, five and ten year period. If underserved areas do not have enablers such as local champions or public/private partnerships the digital divide will continue to exist until these economic gaps can be overcome.

The sustainability of broadband in an underserved area is based upon market forces and the potential need for government assistance. For this reason, the GOA must develop a policy framework for broadband that determines:

- Which areas can be, or are, served by market forces;

- Which areas will need assistance with initial investment to become
self- sustaining; and,

- Which areas cannot become self-sustaining and will require ongoing funding.

Additionally, some or all of the initial capital investment may need to be funded until a sufficient ongoing revenue stream is created. In other cases ongoing funding is needed even with an initial investment for capital.

There are mutually reinforcing benefits between social and economic impacts from broadband. From a social services perspective, more and more government services, such as health, education, and governance, are being provided online.

If all citizens have rights to equal access to government services, then it is important to understand where market forces cannot be relied upon to provide affordable access to broadband services. In such cases there is not just an economic argument for government intervention, but also a social equity argument.

In My Humble Opinion (IMHO)
Why does the GOA not understand that they have to take an active role in funding underserved areas?

The GOA is actively funding projects that are migrating traditional government services such as Healthcare to online services and yet they are taking a "hands-off" approach to the economic problem in Alberta's underserved areas.

Their answer:
"We will allow colocation on the AFRRCS towers".
Let's be honest. Access to the AFRRCS towers will be dependent upon who wins the contract. This is not going to happen!

The GOA has identified five priorities. These can be reviewed at:

Shouldn't one of the priorities be to ensure that all citizens of Alberta have equal access to services such as Healthcare?

Other provincial governments such as Ontario and BC have a taken a leadership role in ensuring that all citizens have equal access to government services.

Instead the GOA funded the Alberta SuperNet which created another competitive backbone provider (Axia) in Alberta, which has effectively eliminated open competition for backbone connectivity in the Enterprise marketplace.

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