By Stan Ashbee
Alberta Newspaper Group
SouthGrow Regional Initiative recently released its study, “Cost Benefit Analysis of Rural Broadband in Alberta.” It was noted, the study was a significant deliverable in SouthGrow’s three-year strategic plan.
SouthGrow Executive Director Peter Casurella explained the intent of this project was to accurately and confidently measure the degree of value broadband networks bring to communities in Alberta. “On the rationale this would give municipal, provincial or federal governments the economic data they need to make decisions about advancing infrastructure projects.”
Casurella added the researchers did a very thorough literature review, consulted with the established experts in the field and developed hypothetical test cases to establish the minimum return on investment to Albertans. “The numbers are very encouraging.”
Under the most expensive hypothetical test cases, the return to society is at least three-to-one over a 20-year period. The implied assumption is all real-world deployments will yield better returns, particularly as new uses of the infrastructure are developed.
Casurella said the reason the study is significant is because a study like this, in a Canadian jurisdiction, has never been done before. “There’s a genuine gap in the knowledge around this issue.”
Everybody, it seems, usually just sits around and looks at studies coming out of other areas in the world including private studies, which can show good turns on investment, he said. “But nobody really knew how much.”
One of the issues southern Albertans are facing, he said, are communities know they need to get the infrastructure built, but it is more taxpayer money that would need to be utilized to pay for it. The powers that be, including local municipal councils, need to be made aware they would be making a wise choice, in regards to investing in the required infrastructure.
“What if we look at what the economic data actually says about the return of investment for society,” he said. “And how good of an investment that is.”
“No one has done this, so let’s find out,” he added.
Casurella pointed out SouthGrow built the study, searched for expert opinions, collected all the relative data and crunched the numbers. “And designed it in such a way we were being very conservative in the estimates.”
A goal was to show a minimum return on investment for a ridiculous scenario.
“This is a very good investment whether you are a private company or taxpayer money is being spent with this scenario,” he noted.
According to Casurella, the entire province of Alberta was included in the study, “because we wanted to be taken seriously,” he said, adding if the focus of the study was only on the local area, the study might not have had the impact SouthGrow intended.
Moving forward, he said, the study will be presented to councils and could serve as a catalyst for those on council who have been on the fence about broadband infrastructure investment. The presentations would simply show the actual data and in turn could perhaps defend an investment of this type to ratepayers.
Another hope is to show the provincial and federal governments, they too, should be looking at the data and information in the study and its findings as an, “absolute essential for communities,” he said. “There’s a real lack of initiative from both the province and the feds and there’s a real lack of responsibility of who can actually do anything about this.”
As both the provincial and federal governments take a look at this study, it could provide an essential piece of information when it comes to the governments spending money. Recently, he said, the commissioner of the CRTC paid a visit to southern Alberta, but unfortunately the commissioner has no authority or power to sway governments to spend money on the aforementioned infrastructure. But, Casurella added, the CRTC can develop policies and influence legislation.
“This critical data showing the extreme benefits of deploying broadband to Canadian communities will hopefully help their arguments and their projects too,” Casurella said.