Approximately 20 rural Saskatchewan communities will be getting access to SaskTel’s fibre Internet service, infiNET, over the next four years as part of a new $50-million project by the Crown corporation.
On Thursday, SaskTel announced its Rural Fibre Initiative, which is intended to bring the Crown’s fibre-optics network to approximately 30,000 households and businesses in smaller communities. The first phase of the project will introduce fibre Internet to the majority of residents in Balgonie, Biggar, Langham and Pilot Butte by March 2022. Phase two of the initiative will be announced later in 2021.
“Through our Rural Fibre Initiative, residents and business owners in many of our smaller communities can continue to confidently build their future knowing they’ll soon have access to the best communications infrastructure available,” said Doug Burnett, SaskTel president and CEO, in a news release.
Gordon Barnhart, president of the Municipalities of Saskatchewan, said the organization was glad to see smaller communities receiving upgrades to match what it is normally only offered in larger urban centres.
“In today’s digital landscape, connectivity is at the forefront of our business and home lives, and the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stark reminder of the importance of being able to remain connected virtually. We have long been aware of the gap in service between the larger centres and those communities who are smaller and more remote are pleased to see the issue is being addressed,” said Barnhart.
SaskTel’s infiNET is capable of delivering speeds of up to 300 megabits per second. SaskTel also said that thanks to advancements in fibre optics, it will soon be able to deliver speeds of up to a gigabit per second and more in the future. However, the Crown did not give a timeline for when that upgraded speed would be coming.
Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskTel, called the project “critical” for preparing Saskatchewan for the future.
“As so many of us have adapted to online learning and new ways of working, we have become ever more dependent on high speed Internet services. This investment by SaskTel will help set the stage for Saskatchewan’s future and ensure that our province is ready for the post-COVID world with the most advanced communications infrastructure available,” said Morgan in a press release.
The Rural Fibre Initiative is part of SaskTel’s commitment to spend more than $1.6 billion on capital across the province through 2025.
Last month, the federal government announced it was adding an extra $750 million to its Universal Broadband Fund to accelerate timelines for bringing high-speed internet to virtually every Canadian. Jim Carr, a Manitoba MP and the prime minister’s special representative to the Prairies, said in an interview at that time with the Leader-Post that provinces, such as Saskatchewan, with large rural and remote populations could benefit most.