The Open Access Model: How it Brings Connectivity to Underserved Communities

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In a previous article we talked about how “open-access” fiber networks are one future-proof way to bring connectivity rural Canada.

Put simply, these networks divide ownership into several layers: the physical infrastructure, the maintenance and operation of the network, and the service delivery may all be owned or managed by different entities. In some cases, the infrastructure is owned by a government entity, such as a municipality.

How Does the OAN Model Work?

Until the late 20th century, television and telephone networks were separate — limited by the prevailing technology at the time. Towards the end of the century, however, innovations allowed providers to build a single, high-performance network to carry telephone, internet, and cable signals. 

The challenge, of course, is that in many countries those networks have been built by private, for-profit companies, and those companies invest capital where it makes financial sense for them. In many cases, that has left lower-income or rural areas underserved. These large telecoms may also act as service providers, which limits choices for consumers.

The OAN model has either two or three layers, which separate the owner of the network from the service provider. This has several advantages: for municipalities, for example, the costs to build a network are much lower than for private companies. Local governments are also more willing to invest capital in these areas, as their success isn’t measured by shareholder returns. Many local governments across North America are embracing the opportunity to build their own networks. 

Separated from the owner, private companies — such as Valo — can provide services to manage and maintain the network. This is the second layer of the OAN model. It frees the infrastructure owner from the responsibilities of management, allowing them to channel expertise elsewhere. 

The third “layer” of the model is made up of retail service providers — the companies who provide bundles directly to the consumer. Opening the network to more than one provider can reduce the cost to customers, further improving access. 

How is it future proof?

No one can predict the future, or what technological innovations we’ll develop in the coming years, but what we can do is build networks that are durable, reliable, and far outpace any capacity we can currently imagine. 

Fiber-optic cable, which is made of glass, outperforms traditional copper cable in the following ways:

  • Capacity and speed: Data moves across fiber-optic cable as pulses of light. The cables themselves are clusters of fine glass filament and are capable of sending terabytes of data at about 70% of the speed of light. This gives networks a lot more ‘breathing room’ as we begin to live more of our lives online, ensuring the data we need is delivered at optimal speeds.
  • Durability: fiber-optic cable is more resistant to corrosion, which greatly reduces the cost burden of maintenance or replacement. 
  • Reliability: fiber is less susceptible to interference than copper cable, including from third parties and nearby electrical devices, and it’s more reliable during harsh conditions. 

All these benefits – longevity, cost-effectiveness, and capacity — translate to benefits for every layer of the OAN. For those who build the infrastructure and handle maintenance, the up-front investment pays off in lower costs for upkeep down the road. For the service providers, solid infrastructure allows them to offer their customers reliable connections at top speeds — and the promise of the ability to keep up with future innovations.

OAN is Catching On

The pandemic brought into focus not only how essential internet access is, but how essential it is for that connectivity to have the speed and capacity to serve customers’ needs. Rural communities in Canada are underserved by slow networks and spotty coverage — farmers require just as much bandwidth as any urban business, and residents everywhere require reliable connections to fully participate in modern society. 

Many communities across North America are experimenting with open-access networks to bring the internet to rural or hard-to-reach communities. In Alberta, three municipalities have pooled their resources and created a non-profit entity, Rural CONNECT, to fund a network for their communities, with Valo providing maintenance services. Open-access networks have been popular in Europe for decades, and investor interest in the model in the United States is ramping up as the government allocates increased funding for infrastructure in underserved areas. 

OAN is emerging as a viable model for rural areas, especially in countries like Canada, where vast stretches of land remain unconnected. At Valo, we’re excited about the possibilities and ready to bring our years of experience in high-speed infrastructure to waiting rural communities — in Alberta and beyond.

Open-access Networks Are Vital To Canadian Innovation

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The Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) universal service objective for broadband access across Canada is for 90% of communities to have access to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 10 Mbps upload speeds by the end of 2021 and 100% by 2030 or sooner. Yet a “digital divide” persists across the country. The government estimates that at the end of 2022, 91% of urban households had access to broadband that met the standard, while only 62% of rural households did. The number is even lower for indigenous communities; in 2021, less than 45% had access to what’s known as “50/10 speeds.”

Those numbers underscore the divide between urban and rural communities, but even within cities there’s a socioeconomic divide: not every urban community has service that meets the standard, and even the definition of “access” is problematic — a provider might claim its network meets those speeds, but the reality is likely much different. 

This is a big deal. As more and more of our lives move online, access to seamless, robust network becomes more and more vital. Enter open-access networks (OAN), a business model for bringing “future-proof” infrastructure and services to communities. These open-access fiber networks allow people to participate fully in the world, whether they’re using services like health care and education, running a business, connecting with others, or streaming their favorite show. 

What is an Open Access Network?

Open-access networks are networks built via a layered architecture model, where ownership of the physical infrastructure of the network and the delivery services are separate. Separating the delivery of services from the ownership of the network creates an open market, ideally providing a landscape that allows more competition. For example, service providers can join the network without having to build or maintain the network, vastly reducing their capital costs and making room for smaller providers. 

“Capital has always been a barrier to universal connectivity,” says Mike Stelck. Major providers don’t see rural community networks as generating the returns they require, so many areas are left with inadequate coverage — a situation that hampers business development, economic growth, and resident satisfaction.

“We live in a world where a farm needs more bandwidth than a city block,” says Mike Stelck. It’s become so vital, in fact, that many farmers have had to invest in server rooms to keep their businesses operational. Others struggle to cobble together connectivity by working via cell phone, amassing huge bills, or waiting until they can go into town to connect properly. 

The economic implications of underserving rural communities is significant. The vast swathes of seemingly unpopulated countryside generate 30% of our gross domestic product through agriculture, mining, forestry, and other industries. According to Statistics Canada, in 2020 small rural businesses earned $138.4 billion (representing almost 18% of revenue generated by small businesses country-wide), and medium-sized rural businesses generated $69.6 billion in revenue (14.6% of the revenue generated by all medium-sized businesses). As with urban endeavours, the internet is vital to their operations.

Making the Connection

Canada has experimented with version of OANs before, including Open Alberta, a project that linked the province’s education, health care, and government departments via high-speed internet across the province. That network was eventually taken over by a private entity, and eventually the rural tributaries of the system became victims of that allocation of capital that hampers so many others. 

Rural Connect, a new corporation created by the municipality of Delburne and Red Deer and Paintearth Counties, aims to bring high-speed internet to the region via the open-access model by 2024. The three entities have invested $xx million in the project, which will see Valo build the infrastructure and Tether act as the service provider. Rural Connect will address the lack of investment from private providers, and as an open network will provide opportunities for other service providers to join. In addition to building the network, Valo will provide maintenance and management services to Rural Connect, allowing them to maximize cost efficiency. 

The network has the potential to stimulate economic growth for the region, and drive innovation. Sweden, which established open-access networks in the 1990s to provide high-speed connectivity across the country (and started a program to put a computer in every home), has long been known as a hotbed of innovation. Companies like Skype, Spotify, and others — who have produced the tools we’ve all come to rely on so heavily — were all developed there. The Rural Connect project aims to deliver the same possibilities to rural residents, via one future-proof, high-speed connection.

How Open-access Networks Empower Communities

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In the 1990s, Sweden conducted an experiment that some say transformed its entire economy. The government launched a program that aimed to put a computer in every home, and then built a high-speed network that delivered connectivity to every part of the country. They did it using an open-access model, which separates ownership of the physical network from the delivery of services. 

Today, Sweden is considered a leader in tech. It has become home to innovations like Skype and Spotify, gaming developer Mojang AB (creator of Minecraft), fintech firm Klarna, and lithium-ion battery developer Northvolt. In fact, the country has more “tech unicorns” — tech startups valued at a billion dollars or more — per capita than any world region outside Silicon Valley. In Stockholm, there are more than 3,000 start-ups and scale-ups, and 101,000 tech employees.

Many of its business leaders credit the early and widespread access to advanced technology for the nation’s track record as innovators. And studies over the years in various countries have demonstrated that internet access and, now, broadband speed, help drive innovation in communities. 

Overcoming the Digital Divide

In Canada, it’s become more and more obvious that universal access to high-speed connectivity is necessary for communities to thrive. Where we stand now is far from universal, however, as only <stats from first blog>.

Open-access fiber networks are a viable way to bring last-mile high-speed connectivity to communities across the country — even the hard-to-reach ones. Their layered business model helps open up the market for a host of service providers and allows counties and municipalities to “own” their network, removing them from the whims of major telecom corporations, who maynot continue investment in a network if the returns aren’t attractive enough. 

For these communities, high-speed connectivity can open up a world of opportunities. Technology has become the backbone of almost every industry — It’s essential to the way we live, work, and play. A lack of connection hampers economic growth, limits the services people can access, and can even affect health and wellbeing, as families struggle to remain connected.Canada’s current patchwork of substandard rural networks has been called into the spotlight thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, when businesses and essential services turned to online channels. The digital inequity across the country became more pronounced than ever, highlighting disparities between (and at times, within) urban, rural, and Indigenous communities. 

Connecting Communities

While our current approach to broadband connectivity doesn’t serve Canadians equally, there are increased calls for open-access network implementation. And several municipalities and local governments are taking matters into their own hands, choosing to build networks using an open-access model. Rural CONNECT, in Alberta, will bring Red Deer County, Paintearth County, and the municipality of Delburne together to build a network to serve their region with a future-proof fiber network. 

As the vendor responsible for building the network infrastructure and fulfilling the maintenance contract, Valo is part of this open-access project. Since our inception we’ve been advocating for universal access for rural communities, aiming to deliver well above the 50/10 goal the government of Canada has set out as a minimum. Like the xxx in charge of the Rural Connect project, we understand that internet access will help these communities build strong economies, attract new residents, and keep current residents connected to the rest of the world in increasingly vital ways.

How Connectivity Helps Rural Communities Thrive

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Discover how access to high-speed connectivity can help transform rural communities, and how Valo is leading the way with three exciting trials.

The world is full of amazing technology now — sensors that can find leaks in your house, alert you to an intruder, or control the temperature; technology that can help farmers get more yield from their fields; gaming devices that give us an immersive experience in an entirely different world. Even watching television has changed dramatically — if it can even be called television when we watch it on everything but. 

These innovations are easily accessible if you live in a city, where connectivity is ubiquitous. Urban centres have access to infrastructure that supports new technology as it evolves. Rural communities, however, lack that essential layer of connectivity that allows them to participate in the world the way city-dwellers do.  

Valo Network aims to make that connectivity more accessible for rural municipalities. We work with governments and municipalities, as well as service providers, to help provide connectivity to rural communities. “You could call us the enabler,” says Mike Stelck, Valo Networks’ Chief Commercial Officer. “We’re working to provide the connectivity that allows that culture of use to develop.” 

While so much of what we do seems driven by entertainment or gaming, the past year has revealed that connectivity is a major driver for business success, personal safety, and access to services. Rural communities grapple with crime, access to online education and health care, and even the ability to fully participate in democratic processes. Connectivity has become key to taking part in the wider world — and it’s key to rural communities continuing to attract or retain residents. 

Valo is bringing three pilot programs to rural Alberta, to demonstrate the impact connectivity can have on three key areas of rural life: agriculture, security, and entertainment. These trials will give rural residents the opportunity to experience innovation first-hand. 


Innovations in technology have allowed farmers to practice what’s known as “precision farming” — drones, GPS, and sensors collect data about crops and animals, which allows farmers to use fewer resources (including water, pesticides and fertilizer) to achieve greater yields.  

But many farms don’t have access to the high-speed connectivity needed to make this technology widespread. Farms who can take advantage of ag-tech often have their own, self-contained setups, including server rooms. For smaller operators, this technology is out of reach, and the impact can go beyond one operation to the broader community, as they may sell to industrial operations and leave the community altogether. 

Valo is working with the municipal government in Red Deer County to put together a trial for agricultural technology that will bring “fibre to the farm.”  

“It’s an area where we see the potential for tremendous growth,” says Mike. “We want to enable the cloud infrastructure, because once that’s in place it’ll speed the uptake of ag-tech.” 

To learn how you can participate in the trial, get in touch with Tether at [email protected].  

Smart Home Technology 

Rural crime has become a major issue for communities. Statistics Canada estimated that in 2017, rural communities in Alberta suffered crime rates 38% higher than urban areas. These rates include incidents such as trespassing, garbage dumping, mischief, and hunting without permissions. While provincial governments have recognized the challenge of keeping such vast swathes of land safe for those who live there.  

While we often think of smart homes as filled with conveniences like temperature control or the ability to control lighting remotely, they can do so much more. Smart homes can also include security features like intrusion detection and video, which are key in rural areas where crime is a concern.  

The challenge, as always, is connectivity. So Valo is working with the municipality of Delburne to develop a pilot program that will bring smart technology to rural homes.  


 “Over the Top” television is anything outside of your regular cable package — streaming services like Netflix and Prime are “over the top” services, but so are network apps that allow you to watch television shows over the internet, without a cable or satellite subscription. And like so many other things that have become part of our daily lives, rural residents struggle to take part thanks to limited access to the necessary connectivity. Our third trial — and our second in Delburne — will bring over-the-top technology to rural households, giving them access to all the streaming content city-dwellers have been enjoying for years.  

Take Part  

If you run a farm in Red Deer County and would like to take part in Valo’s agricultural technology trial, get in touch. If you’re a resident of Delburne, Alberta, and would like to be part of the Smart Home or Over-the-Top trials, contact Tether at [email protected]

Democratizing Connectivity: Why Our Mission is Vital to All Canadians

Democratizing Connectivity: Why Our Mission is Vital to All Canadians

The past year has taught us many things, perhaps more than usual for any year in recent memory — and among those, we’ve come to realize that internet is essential to our daily lives. And for rural residents, this has never been more apparent, as health care, education, and in many cases our jobs have moved online.

COVID-19 and the need for everyone to isolate in their homes has resulted in a spike in demand for residential broadband internet.

Yet “time and again, rural Canadians have identified unreliable and slow internet coverage as their number one issue,” says the government of Canada, when talking about its efforts to improve rural connectivity. This lack of access impedes their safety, ability to earn a living, education and health care. On a day-to-day level it affects how people in rural communities do business — for instance, their ability to accept Interac payments — or how they must access the internet from places other than home or avoid peak times to ensure adequate connection speeds.

The federal government has recognized that internet is essential to daily life and has committed $585 million to the Universal Broadband Fund program, aimed at bringing broadband to rural communities across the country by 2023.

Where Valo Fits In

We started Valo Networks because we understand the challenges rural communities face, and we know there’s an opportunity to bring broadband to these communities in a way that will allow them to fully participate in the digital economy, beyond geographical borders. The last year has seen our lives change profoundly, and we know going forward that those changes will demand robust technology infrastructure for all areas of the country.

We’re here to work alongside rural municipalities, counties and districts to help ensure they can provide their constituents with the connectivity they need to thrive. We build local infrastructure, invest in transport fibre back to major centres, and provide carrier-neutral wholesale services. Our model allows municipalities to retain ownership over their network, allowing them to control connections, services, and competitive offerings.

Our leadership team includes technology disrupters and entrepreneurs who’ve built and operated networks across several jurisdictions, locally and internationally — and members who live rurally. We understand how vital the timely construction and upgrading of infrastructure is to Canadians outside urban centres, whether they need access to school, are trying to run a business, want to use a streaming service, or are using agricultural technology to improve farming processes. Broadband connects all of us, and we should all be equally connected.

Why High-Speed Broadband is Essential for Rural Communities

Why High-Speed Broadband is Essential for Rural Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored for many of us how deeply technology affects our lives. Confined largely to our homes since early spring, we’ve adapted to doing almost everything online — shopping, work, learning, and even health care. But perhaps nowhere is the effect felt more than in rural Canada, where residents often struggle to connect without reliable broadband.

It’s startling to think about, given that in 2016 the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) declared broadband internet — a connection with speeds of more than 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) — an “essential service for all Canadians.” For those in urban areas, where approximately 99.9 per cent of residents have access to download speeds of 100 Mbps or more, it’s part of daily life. In rural communities, that number drops to just 37% — people are struggling to manage with dial-up connections or, in some cases, no internet connection at all.

The demand for broadband data is not set to slow down anytime soon.  Pandemic aside, demand for broadband has been steadily increasing in Canada for years. From 2013 to 2017, the number of high-speed Internet subscriptions increased by 1.5 per cent, while the population only increased by 0.1 per cent.

“Broadband is not like other commodities — the more you produce, the more demand there is,” says Phil Roberts, CEO of Valo Networks. From a demand perspective, the pandemic has forced companies, people and institutions (especially education and health) to move on-line.  It’s hard to find a business now that has not digitized — traditional brick and mortar businesses like gyms have found an online audience. Even after the pandemic, many will continue to use the technology to bring efficiencies and/or open new markets.

Who’s Online?

This is the acceleration of a trend that has already been in motion for some time, and one that Phil does not see changing post-pandemic. For rural communities especially, these trends in usage could be key to attracting new residents. Roberts likes to think of the trends in terms of three stages of adulthood.

Young adults, just starting out: “Internet is a necessity,” says Phil. “It’s how all their content is delivered.” This age group has the lowest penetration rate for landlines, and the highest for cord cutting. They need connectivity for entertainment, education, social activity, job-searches and even employment.  This group might choose where they live based on budget (lower rents, proximity to school or work) but connection speeds will affect how long they stay.

Adults in careers to retirement: The older part of this segment may still rely on cable television and landlines, but this group’s use of technology like VOiP, IPTV and streaming is rapidly growing. Remote work requires a good internet connection, and this group is more likely to consider areas with good internet service, then choose their home within those zones. This is even true of urban areas, says Roberts — for example, some neighborhoods in Calgary are equipped with fibre-optic, while others are not.

Retired adults: Although they’ll tolerate slow connection speeds (especially if they’re on a fixed income), this group’s use of digital services for entertainment is growing. Emerging services like telehealth will continue this trend — Roberts estimate that in as little as three years, telehealth could become an essential part of healthcare delivery. As Canada’s senior population grows, people want to stay in their homes longer, necessitating the ability to connect with families, health care professionals, and others remotely. For those working and learning, the internet has become an essential way to connect from home — sometimes across town, sometimes across the country.

The Future of Communities

Communities know it’s essential to close the digital divide — the pandemic has illustrated that in so many ways. The delivery of health care services, for example, has already emerged as essential for some communities. For example, some communities have already faced issues with their only doctor having to self-isolate, leaving residents without care during the pandemic. On a smaller level, access to high-speed broadbad allows landlords to use technology such as sensors, data, and algorithms to better manage their assets and reduce operational costs. And having the ability to connect smartphones with building systems may help increase safety for residents, guests, or the broader community.

Valo Networks is working to bring rural communities the same level of connectivity urban centres enjoy. We partner with communities to build local infrastructure, ensuring residents have access to the digital services that are becoming essential to all our lives. And it’s clear that investing in those communities will not only benefit current residents, but attract future ones, too.

Learn more about Valo Networks, and how we’re bringing high-speed connectivity to rural communities.