A Winnipeg telecommunications provider will begin installing boxes, wires and towers this year in 10 remote Manitoba First Nations communities allowing thousands to surf the web for the very first time on the world’s latest wireless technology.
CommStream was recently awarded $5 million from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Connecting Canadians 150 program. CommStream will invest another $2 million more to bring internet to 10 First Nation communities over the next three years providing the first high speed internet in those areas.
In addition, Commstream has developed a training program for each First Nation to run its own Internet Service Provider (ISP) business similar to the one that has been successfully operating in Chemawawin Cree Nation since 2011.
“There are 17,000 people in 2,000 homes in these communities that don’t have access to any high speed internet. Most don’t even have DSL service, the only internet they can access would be satellite, which is very slow and expensive,” said Don Walker, Chief Financial Officer with CommStream.
The arrival of high speed internet can change remote communities in countless ways above and beyond people simply being able to stream songs and movies.
Walker said there are First Nations in other parts of the country who use the internet to reduce trips to urban centres for routine medical appointments for example. A doctor can sit in his or her office in a major urban centre and see, and communicate, with the patient in the community nursing station once high speed internet is available.
“It improves really important things like health care and education. High speed internet can bring doctors’ eyes to the community and allow a teacher to take a student around the world,” Walker said.
“Without high speed internet people who are ill need to be sent to Winnipeg to find out if something’s wrong, and those trips are costly and stressful. When you reduce those costs that money can be better spent on things like education,” he said.
CommStream, which got its start in the northern community of Gillam, was launched in 2001 to provide internet services to remote areas and in 2017 it is still providing internet services to remote areas.
The installation of microwave towers and equipment shelters in the First Nation communities of Mosakahiken Cree, War Lake and York Factory will begin this year. Three more communities – Bunibonbee, Manito Sipi and God’s Lake – will follow in the winter of 2018 and the final four – Garden Hill, Wasagamack, Red Sucker and St. Theresa Point – will see installation in winter 2019.
Walker said the project to bring services to remote First Nations communities falls in line perfectly with CommStream’s goal since it began – to provide high speed internet to under-served areas of rural Manitoba.
One of the objectives of the federal government’s Connecting Canadians 150 program is to provide broadband internet to remote communities with a minimum download speed of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 1 Mbps. In fact CommStream will improve on that requirement and actually provide 10 Mbps download speed with 1 Mbps for uploading installing the world’s latest wireless technology on community located towers.
Tom Motyka, CommStream’s President, said local First Nation band members will be hired and trained to use CommStream’s ISP In A Box (Internet Service Provider In A Box).
Once the infrastructure is in, ISP In A Box training gives community members the skills to do home installations and the First Nation can run its own business and share in the profits, with CommStream providing backend support.
“With ISP In A Box, once all the equipment is deployed, we would like the local community to be engaged in creating their own support and installation,” Motyka said.
It’s a system that has proven itself already. In 2011, CommStream partnered with Chemawawin Cree First Nation in Easterville to bring high speed internet to the community.
Chemawawin has enjoyed high speed internet for the past six years and Chief Easter said it’s made a big difference for the people living there. For starters it’s created employment, with two full-time staff, and during busy times a couple more.
“We’re extremely happy about it. We have access now to the world,” Easter said.
“It has become a necessity for us. We use it for our payroll system because we have direct deposit. We have a payroll of at least half a million dollars every two week, we have over 350 employees in the summertime, so we need our payroll system. It’s really part of everything we do, education, health, recreation, all our offices are connected.”
CommStream has also installed high speed internet in Snow Lake and its cabin area, as well as Paint Lake. They’ve installed both internet and digital TV in Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask and Keewatinohk camps for their workers.