Broadband access gets some Northern exposure

When it comes to Internet connectivity, Northern Canada might finally be catching up to the rest of the country with a newly signed agreement that expands IP broadband access to a wide variety of remote communities.

Earlier this week, the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) – based in Kuujjuaq, Que. –on behalf of the Northern Indigenous Community Satellite Network (NICSN), signed onto a deal with Telesat Canada.

As part of the agreement, several communities in Arctic Quebec, 14 communities in Nunavut, 13 communities in Northwest Ontario and 16 communities in Northern Manitoba will be ensured access critically needed bandwidth for the next decade. Telesat, which was sold-off from Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) last year, will provide its Anik F3 satellite to help provide connectivity to the North.

The NICSN was established in 2005 by the KRG, Keewaytinook Okimakanak’s K-Net and the Keewatin Tribal Council.

John Dumoulin, assistant director in the IT section of the KRG, said the long-term agreement will give Northern Canadian users access to additional C-band transponders for use on the Telesat satellites. Currently, the NICSN is operating on a 36 MHz transponder, with the agreement adding two more to the mix in the near future.

“We have a satellite backbone that we’re sharing, with each region having its own model for local distribution,” Dumoulin said. “For the KRG, we distribute on the last mile through wireless technology. We primarily use Motorola’s NextNet Wireless system, which is the same stuff that both Rogers and Bell are using down South for their mobile broadband services.”

Some of the Northern Ontario and Manitoba communities involved in the NICSN, he said, are using cable modems. But given its remote geography, Nunavut and Northern Quebec are 100 per cent wireless.

“It’s hard to get a sense of why we need to do this without the proper context of these regions,” Dumoulin said. “Our residents have no means of getting in or out of our communities other than flying. So, a lot of the basic services that are taken for granted by urban, and even most rural Canadians, are not available to us.”

“For a serious health emergency, or even something routine like a women giving birth, our residents need to be flown out to Montreal to visit the hospital,” he added.

In addition to offering IP broadband access to area residents, the deal could bring increased capabilities to education and medical facilities. Teachers, doctors, and even judges will be able to use video conferencing technology to cut down on expensive and time consuming air travel.

“Let’s say you want to do an ultrasound on somebody who’s expecting, but you don’t have an expert in the community that can actually interpret the ultrasound,” Dumoulin said. “You could use video conferencing and patch a feed to a hospital in Montreal and have a specialist analyze the data in real-time, as opposed to shipping down the recording or flying the patient out to do it live.”

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