LAC LA BICHE — Residents in the first of eight areas selected in the joint PureFibre Build project between Lac La Biche County and Telus will soon be able to access high-speed internet if they choose.
To upgrade internet services in the county, the total costs for the project exceeds $13 million. The municipality will cover approximately $6.849 million of those costs. Since 2020, the County has been making installments of $2.28 million each year coming out of the municipality’s annual operating budget.
The first locations to go online with fibre optic will be the westside of Lac la Biche Hamlet including the airport, the surrounding industrial area, and residents and businesses along the majority of Mission Road. Construction for the project is ongoing in the east and downtown portion of the hamlet, and has yet to begin at the Young’s Beach and Plamondon locations.
Dan Small, the County’s Associate CAO, reported to council on Tuesday that crews working on the fibre optic project expect to have all residents within the selected areas hooked in by November. This is estimated to included 98 per cent of urban homes and businesses.
As different areas get tied in to the network, some residents will be connected earlier as work progresses, he says. The main line work in many areas is nearly complete and now the next step is bringing fibre to people’s houses.
However, as many councillors have pointed out, not all residents are agreeing to connect and there are growing concerns that it comes down to a lack of public information on the project from behalf of the County. Currently, the telecommuncations company has been responsible for informing the community of the ongoing project.
Reaffirming that this is a joint partnership to improve broadband infrastructure for the entire municipality, Coun. Lorin Tkachuk said, “(The County’s) fixed cost, that we’re paying regardless, was based on 100 per cent of people getting the drop. If 50 per cent of people only get the drop — I'm not saying that it would be that low — our costs are staying the same. We want to encourage our residents to take it now for free when the partnership is here.”
Tkachuk adds that even if residents accept the fibre optic drop, they are not required to connect to the high-speed internet, they can continue the services they currently have, but the option will always be there down the road.
However, if property owners refuse service to their house from the main grid during the ongoing project, they will be responsible for costs if they choose to connect later on, he says, which may be quite costly depending on the distance from the main line.
Although councillors and County staff have reported receiving negative feedback on the project, crews installing cables have stated the overall community sentiment has been positive.
According to the communications company, homeowners have generally been welcoming and excited to get the service, however, there have been a handful of minor escalations reported.
Internet a new form of infrastructure
During a special council meeting on July 23, the local fibre optic project was a hot topic as Mayor Omer Moghrabi expressed frustration with the public’s divide.
The mayor, councillors and administration stated they have all received correspondence from the public. Feedback from property owners has been mixed, they say, with some residents asking why they are not included in the project’s scope and others objecting to the spending of public funds to upgrade broadband infrastructure.
Although this is not a cost-share project and Telus will have final ownership and operational responsibilities for the fibre infrastructure, Moghrabi compares the PureFibre Build project to any other infrastructure improvement that requires investment, such as boat launch upgrades and road resurfacing.
Moghrabi says he is baffled by the resistance from the public on this project. “I don't understand. I can't even get coverage in Lac La Biche never mind at Eagle Haunt... I'm frustrated when I hear this division all the time, we're trying to do everything for everyone.”
Coun. Colin Cote shared similar sentiments regarding the benefits of an improved broadband service and spoke to potential investment growth that could attract more residents into the area.
“I look at it as an investment in development,” said Cote, adding that like water, sewage or waste disposal, fibre cables indirectly benefit everybody.
For Coun. Darlene Beniuk, she will be happy when both hamlets are fully serviced by fibre cables so cellular towers in the region can be readjusted, which will hopefully improve 5G network service to areas that won’t be connected to the grid, such as Wards 2 and 6.