Federal government invests in rural connectivity

The Government of Canada announced a strategic initiative Sunday through which it plans to extend broadband Internet connectivity to the nation’s most remote communities via satellite.

Industry Canada, together with Infrastructure Canada and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), launched the $155-million National Satellite Initiative which will expand broadband satellite Internet services to the far north, mid-north and isolated interior regions of Canada which cannot be served by any other means of connectivity.

According to Peter Hill, director of broadband for Industry Canada in Ottawa, while many factors worked into the equation to develop the satellite initiative, the fact that an estimated 400 communities are severely underserved was most notable.

“Satellite is the only choice (for these communities) and, if you know telecom, you will appreciate that satellite, for all its good, is typically a last choice because of its cost,” Hill said. “This (project) can give a lot of capacity to those communities so they will be able to benefit similarly as companies and homes and institutions do now in major economic centres (in Canada.)”

However, Hill noted that the project is not just about bringing economic opportunities to these remote rural areas of the country including most of Nunavut, parts of the Northwest Territories, northern Quebec and Ontario, Labrador, interior British Columbia and Vancouver, and Saskatchewan. He said that basic necessities like health care are poor in these areas compared to “what we in the south would consider to be adequate.”

He explained that for citizens living in Nunavut for example – with the exception of Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital – a trip to the doctor’s office typically means a three- to four-day journey there and back.

“With existing technology and the improved connectivity (via satellite), and with videoconferencing equipment, you can have a health practitioner or nurse within the community perform a consultation with a doctor in Iqaluit or Toronto or even New York,” Hill said.

To enable the $155-million project, Infrastructure Canada will contribute $85 million from its ‘national priority project envelope,’ while the CSA will provide a $50-million service credit to the government of Canada for satellite capacity. Additional satellite capacity managed by Industry Canada will be added to the fray, valued at approximately $20 million.

Hill likened the satellite project to the Telesat initiative in the early 1970s, when the government of Canada acknowledged that in order to be a country that included the north, a significant investment had to be made.

“It was all very much about nation-building,” he said. “I’m not saying that this is the same thing…but it is of the same ilk in what it will do for these people. They will not be second-class citizens.”

The first phase of the project is expected to roll out early 2004 when the first capacity becomes available. There is no word where satellite connectivity will beam down first. For more information, visit www.ic.gc.ca.

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