Digital Futures Symposium
From left, George Rogers, Dr. Rob McMahon, Dr. Michael McNalley, Bryndis Whitson, Robert Pulyk, Alberta Bob Bezpalko, and Mary Lee Prior.
Photo Angela Mouly
The Van Horne Institute hosted a Digital Futures Symposium at the Pomeroy Inn & Suites in Vermilion on October 18. People from around the province gathered to look at a provincial broadband strategy and what’s next at the 9th symposium since 2013. Speakers updated guests on why the need to address regional connectivity is so great and how to achieve rural broadband. MLA for Fort Saskatchewan - Vegreville, Jessica Littlewood; and Vermilion - Lloydminster MLA, Dr. Richard Starke both made appearances at the symposium. Bryndis Whitson, Van Horne Institute’s Director of Stakeholder Relations said, “It’s a great opportunity because everyone from Vermilion to Grand Prairie to Taber can discuss how we can all learn from each other and work together. Broadband can allow senior’s to age in place, keep youth in a community, and progress business. I can see significant improvement in the past five years, but there is still a ways to go. There is a very big need; 650,000 Albertans don’t have access to the internet requirements that everyone should have. Part of this includes making sure that students have access at home in order to do their homework. I’ll never forget our very first symposium when a gentleman from California shared how they were able to better care for his mother-in-law in rural Newfoundland. What they did was install internet and cameras so they could communicate differently. What she did as a result was get dressed every day, and left a red cup out if she wanted them to call. They did stretching exercises together, and they could tell where she was going when she left the house based on how much medication she took with her. As a result, she was able to continue living in her home so much longer.” According to Van Horne Institute’s president and CEO, Alex Phillips, Digital Futures brings together government, industry, and academia to try and drive policy from the bottom up, based on reliable facts. “The advantage is that we can monitor what government is doing, that they are keeping with industry needs, and the timing for those needs to be met. The strength of the symposium is the diversity of people’s interests that have a shared goal to develop the internet for the benefit of everyone. This way, you drive more insights into what the policy should be. With any network, whether it’s a railroad or what have you, the key policy should be an adequate level of service to meet community needs at reasonable prices,” said Phillips. Alberta HUB Region executive director, Bob Bezpalko agreed saying, “All these different entities play such a critical part in this.” Councillor Rob Pulyk spoke on behalf of the Vermilion River Regional Alliance stating that the digital revolution is similar to the industrial revolution. He said that with high-speed internet being a necessary service, small communities have difficulty retaining people and business. “It affects commerce with debit machines shutting down during busy sales times. When uploading 1GB, it took me four hours, and I thought my computer was going to burn up. Broadband can also improve education and provide better health services. It’s imperative for our region to have broadband,” said Pulyk. Local businessman, Randy Martin, president of Rock Solid Group Of Companies expressed the challenges that his company faces with the current level of internet in Vermilion. “We have issues trying to communicate with operations and sales, and other companies wanting real-time data. Accounting has to come in evenings and weekends, and even with DropBox, we get kicked out of our accounting system and windows. Because of the download speed, storing data has become an issue, and on occasion, we had to resort to using CDs. In today’s society that is a step backward as many computers don’t even have a spot for them now. I have tried to do online orientation, but have had to have employees do orientation from home due to getting disconnected. Four – five times per month we have to re-boot our system. It’s tough when you can see a shop a block away and can’t communicate with them. Two or three years ago we set up Skype with a Sales group in Calgary but have gone back to teleconference because we can’t have a full meeting conducive to today’s environment. We deal with companies whose accounting is international, and we can’t use the systems they require. We have also had to take information to Edmonton to have other companies enter it. It also affects the security on all of our sites. Innovation is a part of our mission statement, and we are struggling to do that today. In order to survive in today’s market, we need to have better services available in rural Alberta,” said Martin.