Telus casts broadband to remote west

Rural communities in B.C. will soon be online as a result of a partnership between Telus Corp. and the province of British Columbia to provide access to high-speed Internet and expand broadband service.

Under the Connecting Communities Agreement (CCA), 119 rural communities will be connected. The CCA also ensures residents have the necessary support to connect their homes and businesses.

Telus is investing $110 million in the project and will partner local Internet Service Providers (ISPs), to date 20 of which have been selected for 31 of the 119 communities.

The government is not subsidizing the CCA, but there will be no additional cost to taxpayers. Telus has agreed to provide the ISPs with connection to a high-speed access point at a competitive cost.

Matthew Heffernan, managing director of sales for Telus B.C., says the partnership with the province arose out of a mutual desire to improve connectivity.

“The driver (for the project) was to bridge the digital divide in British Columbia, so that regardless of location, people could share the same access to technology,” says Heffernan.

Telus wants to have the service up and running by the end of 2006. Hefferman says the partnership with local ISPs was the result of Telus wanting to provide access to its infrastructure without disrupting or becoming a competitive threat to existing service providers.

Jamie Sterritt is president and owner of Sa’hetxw (pronounced Sa-het) Consulting, a First Nations technology company operating out of Hazelton, B.C. Sterritt will be working with Telus solely on the CCA project, as a liaison between the communities, ISPs, Telus and Network B.C.

“My role since the start has been to ensure the community’s questions and concerns are answered.” says Sterritt.

He says his passion does lie with the First Nations because of his heritage, but that he is working with all communities at this point, not just those that are First Nations. John Webb, director of communities and communications, Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services, says this much-needed service will mean improved accessibility to healthcare and education, especially for First Nations residents.

“About one-third of the First Nations community in Canada lives in B.C, and they’re often very isolated,” says Webb. “Just to see a doctor often means long, arduous travel by float plane, so there’s going to be an obvious advantage there in receiving those services.”

Webb says having high-speed communication in these communities will give users more of an opportunity to continue their education.

“To transform into a more modern economy, this is absolutely essential,” he says. “Wthout it, I expect a number of these communities would wither over a period of years, as young people move away for job opportunities.”

Heffernan says Telus will be upgrading its existing infrastructure in a number of locations, which presents a simpler technical task.

“In many other communities we’re putting in new infrastructure, and with that comes all the geographical challenges in the province,” he says.

Sterritt believes his involvement brings a more personal level to the project, a notion that’s been confirmed by the feedback he’s received from both Telus and the community.

“These communities and their members are genuine and have chosen where they live and the lives that they have.

“Broadband should be available to them just as easily as in the more urban centres,” says Sterrit.

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