Alberta Innovation and Science Minister Lorne Taylor will recommend an ambitious plan to cabinet within weeks to install a high-speed, high-bandwidth fibre-optic network throughout Alberta.
The plan includes plugging Alberta’s new network into the fastest, biggest new economy link in the world — Silicon Valley in California.
“There are huge spinoffs,” Taylor said in an interview. “It automatically means that companies can locate anywhere they want in Alberta.”
The proposal is part of the province’s effort to attract international information technology companies to Alberta, and prevent the “brain drain” of talent and resources occurring in other parts of Canada.
“If we want to attract Silicon Valley companies to locate some of their business operations here, then they have to be able to have that high-speed connection throughout the province,” Taylor said. “And they have to have it into Silicon Valley.”
The province, after sending out a request for proposals to build the new network, has narrowed a list to two competitors. “My plan is to be taking the recommendation to cabinet within the next several weeks,” Taylor added.
John Masters, chief executive of Calgary Technologies Inc., estimated the new network will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It will provide “high-speed universal access to just about every citizen in the province.”
The network would link every Alberta community that has a school, hospital, library or municipal office. From a business perspective, “it’s going to ensure that we’ve got the telecommunications data infrastructure that allows us to compete on a global basis,” Masters said.
The provincial government won’t own the network, but will lease a major part of it for high-speed, broadband communications and level the costs of connecting for rural Alberta communities.
“This will be a private-sector initiative, in partnership with government,” Taylor said.
He declined to comment on the cost, but noted: “There’s incredible support from the private sector and from the academic community.”
The network would enable learning institutions to transmit real-time voice, video and data to students anywhere in the province. The entire network would be faster than the province’s highest-speed T1 line between Calgary and Edmonton. The T1 line is no longer adequate, given the volume of communications traffic between the two cities, Taylor said.
There is a high-speed, broadband fibre-optic link that runs from Vancouver to Seattle to Silicon Valley. Connecting Alberta to Vancouver and into Silicon Valley shouldn’t be difficult, Taylor said. “I think it’s a matter of somebody putting together a team that wants to do it.”
Masters said there’s a “high probability” the provincewide network will go ahead quickly, and a “good possibility” for the Alberta-Vancouver link.
Last week, Alberta announced a deal with Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley. Cisco, one of the world’s leading communications networking companies, has committed to establish a master’s degree program in Internet Technology at the University of Alberta.