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Indigenous communities to get faster internet access

Benefits include accessing telemedicine, business and educational opportunities
Regulator raises questions about future Internet services as 'dark cloud' looms

The federal government is investing $7.03 million to help Indigenous communities and institutions in northwestern Ontario get access to high-speed internet.

Of the funding, $6.59 million will go to K-Net, an Indigenous-owned and -operated internet service provider based in Sioux Lookout, which will help bring high-speed internet access to three communities and up to 16 institutions.

Another $441,000 will go to Western James Bay Telecom Network, which serves the communities of Mooseonee, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, and Attawapiskat. It’s expected to help three communities and up to 42 institutions with new or improved access to high-speed internet.

Another $1.76 million will be contributed by the applicants, and $100,000 will come from other contributors.

The federal funding, which comes from the Connect to Innovate program, is expected to help residents “connect with family and friends, do business online, access telemedicine, participate in distance education, and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the digital age.”

Rebecca Friday, president of Western James Bay Telecom Network and deputy grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council, said the funding would be used to upgrade the networks’ transport capacity and provide enhanced fibre internet service to customers.

“Since 2015, the demand for Internet transport has outstripped our capacity to supply. This has caused gaps in telecommunications service delivery, which has created health and safety concerns in our communities,” Friday said in an Aug. 2 news release.

“We will now be able to offer more transport capacity to our hospitals, ambulance bases, schools, band offices and health centres, as well as an affordable fibre-to-the-home Internet package to residential clients. 

“Our youth have embraced this technology, and they will be at the forefront of developing the digital economy on the James Bay coast.”

Fort Severn First Nation Chief Paul Burke said the current satellite bandwidth used by residents doesn’t meet the community’s needs, making it difficult for residents to access medical assistance, pursue educational opportunities, and conduct business.

“We are thrilled to receive this funding and are looking forward to accessing high-speed Internet comparable to that in the rest of Canada,” he said.

“This will assist our community in being more connected, it will help with service delivery, and our young people can take advantage of the technology for work and education."