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Ottawa’s ban on Huawei equipment stalls fibre optic rollout in at least one Alberta community

Telus Corp. is blaming Ottawa's ban on China's Huawei Technologies Inc. for pausing its fibre optic network build in Alberta city of St. Albert, raising questions over the sanction's spillover effects on connectivity in smaller communities.

Inflation, interest rates and Huawei ban cited as Telus halts work in St. Albert, Alta.,

A cellphone with a logo and text reading Huawei 5G sits on a background of computer chips.

Telus Corp. is blaming Ottawa's ban on China's Huawei Technologies Inc. for pausing its fibre optic network build in the Alberta city of St. Albert, raising questions over the sanction's spillover effects on connectivity in smaller communities.

The delay leaves many neighbourhoods in the city of about 70,000, located on the outskirts of Edmonton, without access to Telus' PureFibre home internet network. Telus originally announced the $100-million project in 2019 to connect more than 90 per cent of St. Albert homes and businesses to its fibre optic network by the end of 2020.

On April 28, the Vancouver-based company informed the city that it had paused its PureFibre build "in all communities in Alberta with the exception of communities where they had a contract or a partnership with the municipality," city council heard last month.

In addition to factors such as high inflation and interest rates, Telus "very predominantly" cited the fallout of the federal government's ban on Huawei technology, said Joanne Graham, St. Albert's director of information technology.

"They have had to dismantle the Huawei infrastructure on all of their antennas and so primarily we're seeing pressures on the capital that they had available for all the builds across Alberta," she said.

The federal government announced in May 2022 it was banning Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese state-backed telecommunications firm, from involvement in Canada's 5G wireless network, a move it said it had been mulling since 2019.

2024 deadline to remove 5G equipment

Canadian companies were given until June 2024 to remove or terminate 5G equipment from Huawei and ZTE, along with a deadline of December 2027 to get rid of existing 4G equipment provided by the Chinese companies.

In 2020, Telus announced it would be working with Sweden's Ericsson and Finland's Nokia as suppliers for its 5G network, ditching previous plans to rely on Huawei equipment for the rollout. Prior to that switch, Telus had warned the deployment of its 5G network could be delayed and be more expensive than anticipated if Ottawa went through with a ban on Huawei equipment.

Telus, which at the time used Huawei radio equipment in non-core portions of its 3G and 4G wireless networks, said in 2019 it did not believe Huawei posed a major risk to national security.

St. Albert Coun. Mike Killick said residents, particularly those in older neighbourhoods that have yet to be retrofitted, will miss out on the faster internet speeds and increased reliability the technology is meant to provide.

"Some people on one side of the street can get the service and on the other side of the street they can't," said Killick.

"I certainly hear from all kinds of residents that are looking for this kind of service and are frustrated that there's a pause on expanding for their neighbourhoods."

In a statement, Telus said it will keep St. Albert residents, businesses and customers updated on the progress of its PureFibre rollout once it resumes and noted he build is complete in more than two-thirds of St. Albert.

The company did not answer a question about other Alberta communities where the build has been paused.

"We understand how important connectivity is for the City of St. Albert and we are investing more than $7.2 million now through 2027 in network infrastructure, operations and spectrum to support vital network connectivity in the community," said spokeswoman Brandi Merker.

Telus should have been better prepared

Canada's Huawei ban is in line with the security concerns of many of its allies, including the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Last week, the Financial Times reported the European Union is considering a ban on its members using Huawei equipment.

Telus should have been better prepared for the effect of Canada's Huawei ban, said Gregory Taylor, an associate professor with University of Calgary's communications, media and film department.

Taylor said the Canadian government moved slowly to impose the ban, "largely to help accommodate the infrastructure that was being built" by companies such as Telus.

"It's an impact that they should have seen coming since 2017 when the U.S. decides that they're going to ban Huawei in their infrastructure," he said.

"It was fairly clear that Canada was going to eventually follow suit."

Innovation, Science And Economic Development Canada did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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