Canadian $900.000 project explores Alberta's SuperNet model to deliver telehealth and electronic services

Ottawa 12 December 2002The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) will fund a $900.000 study examining the impact of next-generation high-speed Internet on urban and rural communities, as council president Marc Renaud has announced. The project led by Dr. David Mitchell, a University of Calgary communications and culture professor, will look at Alberta's SuperNet project as a model for how advanced high-speed Internet connectivity can help communities remove the barriers of distance for the delivery of both commercial content and essential health, education, and emergency services.

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"Everywhere we go, we hear about the importance of being connected", stated Marc Renaud. "But what happens when communities are connected with new technology with capabilities that go beyond traditional Web browsing and e-mail? What kinds of services will the new technology enable? And which ones will communities most benefit from? These are just a few of the questions this project will help us answer."

The three-year project will explore all aspects of Alberta's $295 million SuperNet. The broadband network is expected to connect over 400 Alberta communities with government services, health care facilities, and libraries by the year 2004. The initiative will put Alberta at the forefront of high-speed Internet connectivity, creating opportunities for innovative telehealth, e-business, government on-line, and other new electronic services.

"Alberta's SuperNet project is trying to establish a level playing field for rural and urban communities", stated Dr. Mitchell. "Our team wants to learn whether broadband Internet technology really can overcome the barrier of distance and, if so, we want to provide insight into how under-serviced areas can take best advantage of increasing levels of e-services."

The project will examine such questions as whether increased on-line opportunities allow more young people to pursue post-secondary education without leaving their rural communities, and whether improved access to the Internet sparks new business opportunities in small towns.

The project team includes researchers from four Canadian universities: Athabasca University, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta, and the University of Calgary. The researchers will also work with partners from eleven organisations, including Bell West, Axia, the Van Horne Institute, and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

Research into SuperNet will be useful to policy makers who are interested in devising similar provincial or federal programmes, as well as to rural residents seeking to promote community development and sustainability that rival the vitality of urban areas.

The $900.000 research grant is being funded through SSHRC's Initiative on the New Economy (INE), a five-year $100-million Government of Canada initiative to strengthen understanding of the new economy and its impact on management and education.

SSHRC is an independent federal government agency that funds university-based research and graduate training in such disciplines as economics, history, business and administrative studies, education, law, fine arts, political science, and environmental studies. SSHRC-funded research helps Canadians innovate and compete, maintain their quality of life and understand a rapidly changing world.

The INE represents a five-year, $100-million commitment. It will deepen understanding of the nature of the new economy, and of changes in management skills, educational requirements and lifelong learning, each of which affects the society, economy, and culture. The mission of the Initiative is to generate new knowledge and put it to work by contributing to better-informed decision- making on the part of governments, businesses, organisations, communities and individuals. It aims to do this by focusing research on the nature of the new economy, on management and entrepreneurship, and on education and lifelong learning.


Leslie Versweyveld

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