Councillor questions benefits of broadband

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A Sundre councillor wanted to know what benefits broadband infrastructure, which offers the fastest possible access to the Internet, would offer him as well as other residents who do not see a need for it.

“I don’t have a clue what this is about,” said Coun. Myron Thompson during the regular Monday, April 10 meeting, when elected officials discussed in detail whether to approve a $52,000 expense to hire an objective, reputable, third party to survey residents and businesses to determine the local appetite for high-speed Internet.

“Living in the situation that I do, you get to our age, we’ve lived 52 years in this town without broadband and we’re doing just fine! So why would I want to spend any money because it won’t make my life any better. Or is it? For crying out loud, if it is, you better tell me how because I can tell you there’s 500 more people out there wondering the same thing.”

The councillor understands the benefits for business operators, and wondered why in that case such an initiative wasn’t being privately pursued.

Deputy Mayor Chris Vardas, who chaired the meeting in Mayor Terry Leslie’s absence, said Thompson was right in that broadband is a major draw for businesses.

“And since we’re all about economic development in our community, I think that’s a good start,” he said.

Above and beyond that, no shortage of local physicians have expressed to council the need to connect medical facilities to broadband. Such a service potentially could save residents many trips to Calgary by providing an opportunity to meet with specialized doctors real time by video conference. Even medical records become far more accessible with improved Internet speeds, he said.

“At some point in time, we all survived without broadband, I agree. But I am a big supporter of broadband. Not only does it bring in business and opportunities to our community, it increases our reach in the medical field, and that’s big for us.”

Additionally, broadband “brings the world to your home ó to your fingertips ó a lot quicker than it does today.”

Thompson countered by pointing out many trips to specialized medical centres must be done in person to receive treatment that is not available in town. The councillor still was not convinced what the personal benefit to people like him would be, and cautioned his colleagues that there would be residents critical of the $52,000 expense.

“I’m not saying that broadband will solve all the problems of the world, it doesn’t, and there’s no one that’s saying that,” said Vardas.

“But on the same token though, we’re always saying we want to develop our community. I want you guys to visualize one thing. We’ve got to somehow find some ways to bring younger generations in our community. Whether we like it or not, the young generation likes broadband. They love Internet,” he said, adding many people do just about everything online.

“If you want the world to come to your municipality, and you want younger families to also replenish as we go along, that’s my opinion, I think you need to do stuff like this.”

Jonathan Allan, economic development officer, also underlined the importance of preparing for a future in which demand for bandwidth roughly doubles every two years. Additionally, he said that the new Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission mandate to help municipalities roll out broadband infrastructure made such a venture more feasible for a town such as Sundre to tackle without a private venture.

Although Thompson remained skeptical, the councillor said, “I wouldn’t want to stop the young people from getting smarter, if that’s what it takes.”

He nevertheless urged council to remember seniors on fixed incomes who aren’t in a position to afford broadband, but in the end supported council’s decision to proceed in hiring the firm recommended by administration.

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Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel is the editor of the Sundre Round Up and a longtime columnist for other publications of Mountain View Publishing.