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The Alberta SuperNet is a high speed performance network connecting 429 communities in both urban and rural Alberta. The network consists of over 13,000 kilometers of trenched fibre optic cables and 2,000 kilometers of high-speed wireless links. One of the two main network components is owned and operated by Bell Canada and covers 27 cities in Alberta. The network covering the other 402 communities in rural Alberta is owned by the Government of Alberta, but the network is operated by Axia SuperNet Ltd in Calgary, Alberta. Service providers may connect to the Alberta SuperNet through Axia SuperNet Ltd when they have completed an agreement to provide high-speed Internet access for rural residents and small businesses. The network connects 1425 government locations, 516 health-care facilities, 2,203 schools, 333 libraries, and 244 municipalities. First Nations, Treaty 6, 7 and 8 have also connected 157 education facilities, 95 schools and 44 federal health care facilities. Eight Metis settlements have also connected.
Prior to the Alberta SuperNet, only seven service providers operated outside of Alberta’s two largest metropolitan centres. Now 81 service providers have contracts with Axia to connect to the SuperNet. Approximately 500 service connections and 223 communities have retail access to high-speed connectivity. Currently, 80 percent of Alberta residents have the option of high-speed Internet access. Once service providers have a presence in all SuperNet communities, 95 percent of Alberta residents will have the option of high-speed Internet access.
Estimating the cost of the SuperNet is difficult. In 2001, the Alberta government said in a news release that SuperNet would require a $295-million investment. This figure was based on the government fronting the project $193 million and a private-sector investment from Bell Intrigna and Bell Nexxia of $102 million. According to the release, published on July 24, 2001, the province also signed an agreement "to purchase $169 million worth of telecommunication services from Bell Intrigna over a period of 10 years."
A Calgary company called Axia SuperNet Ltd. is contracted by the Alberta Government to run the Alberta SuperNet. Axia SuperNet, in turn, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Axia NetMedia Corp. of Calgary, a publicly traded company that reported profit of $28.9 million on revenue of $78.2 million in fiscal 2011. "Axia's Alberta SuperNet business has consistently generated annual revenues between $51 million and $55 million," the company's 2011 "Progress Report," available on its website, states without indicating whether this revenue comes from the Alberta government or other customers. Copies available on the Internet of the Alberta Treasury Board’s Blue Book, which lists details of grants, supplies, services and other payments by recipient, indicate that the parent company, Axia NetMedia, received approximately $77 million in payments from Alberta taxpayers between 2006 and July 2011.
Since Alberta SuperNet was not intended to serve as a last mile network, its success in bridging the rural-urban digital divide depends on private ISPs to connect rural homes and businesses to SuperNet. In many rural communities these services have been slow to develop due to the lack of a clear business case or economic incentive, resulting in criticism of this aspect of the SuperNet model.
The biggest challenge met by Morrison Hershfield while providing engineering and management services for Alberta SuperNet was engineering connectivity to Fort Chipewyan, the most remote community connected to the wireless network. The challenge was that this geographically isolated community is situated on the shore of Lake Athabasca. The only way to access the community year round is by air, and in the winter months, by ice roads.
Fiber-optic facilities were not practical due to the wet soil conditions and environmental concerns. A wide range of design options and technologies were considered and assessed by Morrison Hershfield. The breakthrough solution ended up being a high bandwidth (OC3) microwave radio. The 121 km wireless link was believed at the time of construction to be the longest link of its kind.
- Axia SuperNet Ltd. Website
- Morrison Hershfield Website
- Government of Alberta news release, July 24, 2001
- Axia Supernet Ltd. ownership details
- Government of Alberta Treasury Board Blue Book
- Gignac, Tamara (August 22, 2010). "SuperNet's digital dream still out of reach for rural Alberta". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
- Climenhaga, David (November 11, 2011). "Before we go spending any more on it, Albertans need to know what the SuperNet has really cost". Alberta Diary. Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
- "Are we there yet?". uc/communications. Archived from the original on 2013-11-13. Retrieved 2013-09-30.
- "Alberta SuperNet General Info". Morrison Hershfield. Archived from the original on 2010-07-15. Retrieved 2010-08-31.
- "Canadian Consulting Engineer - List of Awards" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-08.