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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives to speak about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta is committing up to $150 million to improve internet connectivity in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.

Premier Jason Kenney says the money is meant to help bring in contributions from private companies and the federal government.

The government is still working out the details of a timeline and where the $150 million would be spent.

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Kenney says Alberta was once a national leader in rural broadband, but has fallen back in the last 15 years.

The province says 80 per cent of First Nations and 67 per cent of rural areas don’t have access to reliable broadband internet coverage.

Kenney says that means about 12 per cent of Alberta homes face an intolerable obstacle in the digital age.

“Many rural Albertans are underserved when it comes to broadband, to wireless, and to connectivity to the digital economy,” Kenney said Thursday.

“This limits the ability of those communities to attract investment and participate fully in our growing digital economy as well as benefit from services like digital health care.”

Paul McLauchlin, head of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said spotty service forces residents and schoolchildren to go to parking lots at fast-food restaurants to get internet access. Some people, he said, are even moving to areas with better service.

Enoch Cree Chief Billy Morin said connectivity is critical, noting 20 laptops were donated to a local school last year but couldn’t be used because of poor connectivity.

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“It’s foundational. It’s going to lead to way more effective First Nations participation in the economy, in health sectors (and) tech sectors,” Morin said, referring to the $150-million investment.

“You’ve got to start somewhere.”

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