Rural access networks provide connectivity between transport networks and individual premises, enabling service providers to deliver residential and business services. Transport networks are comprised of optical fibre, while most rural and remote access networks often use wireless technologies to reach subscribers. Digital subscriber lines and cable are used where it is available.
Virtually all premises in rural Alberta are served by at least one wireline or wireless access network, but service levels and quality of service vary greatly.86 Differences in network operating environments, and in the media and architectures of access networks, account for considerable variation in the performance and cost of service provision. Fixed and mobile wireless are currently the most common solutions for broadband internet access in rural Alberta. Satellite wireless is often used in remote or sparsely populated areas. Several communities and regional economic development authorities are also in the process of exploring or deploying various models of fibre-to-the-premise solutions (see the section on Rural Fibre).
Regardless of the access technology, there is widespread agreement that improved rural broadband access is necessary for bridging the digital divide, as well as supporting economic and social growth. A recent study estimates that on average, rural communities experience about 25% worse connectivity compared to their urban counterparts as measured through a number of metrics such as speed, latency, and jitter. For example, rural Canadian download and upload speeds were 14.8 Mbps and 6.0 Mbps, respectively, compared to 19.8 Mbps and 7.7 Mbps in urban communities.87
86. Government of Alberta. Alberta leads in access to high speed internet, 6 December 2013. Accessed 1 June 2016.
87. CIRA. Canada’s Internet Performance: National, Provincial, and Municipal Analysis. April 2016.