By Chris Marchand
The federal and provincial governments teamed up to announce a major initiative to bring high-speed Internet to Ring of Fire region communities.
The project will see the installation of buried cable from Wunnumin Lake through the five Matawa-member communities of Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Eabametoong, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations, connecting south to Aroland First Nation.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced $37.1 million in federal funds through the Connect to Innovate program, Oct. 6 in Thunder Bay. He was joined by Ontario Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle who announced the province’s $30 million contribution to the initiative. The feds added an additional $2.1 million from the First Nations Infrastructure Fund through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Kenora MP Bob Nault says the project is only the beginning of a larger $500 million effort to connect rural Canada and the far north to high-speed Internet.
“As all of us rural members (of parliament) have been saying, we can’t compete and expect people to want to start up businesses in the north if we don’t have access to high-speed Internet,” said Nault. “It’s the beginning of a number of announcements you’re going to hear about where we have developed strategies with Bell Canada and other providers to put in place the kind of technology people are expecting. The idea of closing all those blank spots in the northwest where we don’t get good Internet or we can’t even use our cell phones.”
Currently most remote communities employ wireless Internet, though are limited to how much data they can transfer.
Nault says while he expects the communications infrastructure to have positive effects on education, economic development and quality of life, he says it will also have a significant imact on local governance.
“Everytime I went to speak to people who worked in First Nation governments, they were telling me that because they didn’t have access to good Internet, they couldn’t govern like everybody else. They couldn’t download or send contracts and documents — they were really hamstrung on their abilities to do their job. These days there are so many financial arrangements between governments that you have to have the ability to move those documents back and forth in a fast and efficient basis.”
David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of Matawa First Nations Management says the announcement represents a big step forward for the communities affected.
“Our First Nation community members will benefit in so many ways. Connectivity is crucial to their well-being. Better services through broadband fibre optic construction will eliminate the digital divide between our First Nations and the rest of the world. It will facilitate greater efficiencies in the delivery of First Nation services, including access to health and education technologies and practices, grants and programs, family and court services, banking and credit services and the gamut of other opportunities that high-speed internet provides.”