FedNor investment to bring faster Internet to Wiikwemkoong Unceded

Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré, centre, joins Wiikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier and economic development portfolio holder Laurence Enosse, Enaadmaagejik Wiikwemkoong Development Commission board members and Anne Marie Sandford, communications business manager with FirstTel Communications Corp in posing with their mobiles ready to connect. photo by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG—Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré travelled to Wiikwemkoong to announce a $104,000 investment in that community’s Internet infrastructure on behalf of Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Singh Bains. The funds are flowing from the Connecting Canadians program that provides underserviced communities with Internet access at speeds of five megabits per second or more.

“Internet access is now an essential part of everyday life,” noted Minister Bains in a release accompanying the announcement. “Canadians can go online for education, health services, entertainment and shopping. Faster Internet connections allow Canadians to not only innovate, but also get the skills and training they need to qualify for well-paying jobs. The smallest businesses, no matter where they are located, can participate fully in the global marketplace and achieve global scale with faster Internet service. We can no longer consider high-speed Internet a luxury.”

“As consumers, businesses and government, we must all continue to work together to meet the growing demand and make broadband more accessible and reliable in underserviced communities,” said MP Serré in making the announcement. “The survival of small rural communities will depend on our investments in broadband high-speed services for all residents. Today’s Connecting Canadians investment of $104,000 will increase broadband Internet access for over 200 households on the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. I must applaud area service providers for stepping forward and championing these projects in rural and remote communities across the country.”

“Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory would like to thank the Government of Canada for recognizing the importance of broadband infrastructure by investing in what we deem as essential infrastructure in our modern economy,” said Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa (chief) Duke Peltier. “The funding announced today will help our community and businesses capitalize on new economic opportunities through technology-based solutions.”

“Through FirstTel’s alternative broadband telecommunications services, WireIE was able to provide the First Nation community direct access to digital high speed Internet and broadband services,” said Rob Barlow, founder and chief executive officer of WireIE, a consultant working with FirstTel on the project. “The benefits the community is now experiencing is something we are proud to be a part of along with FirstTel and KNET.”

K-Net is “a unique First Nations-owned and operated ICT (Internet and communications technology) service provider” based out of Sioux Lookout that is leading the way for rural and remote First Nations of Ontario as they move into the “growing world of information communication technologies.”

“FirstTel Communications Corporation, your first link in communications specializing in telecommunications and broadcasting is pleased to announce that under the new Connecting Canadians rural broadband program we have now expanded and amalgamated to provide broadband services with the wireless fiber link,” said Anne Marie Sandford, communications business manager with FirstTel Communications Corp. during the announcement. “FirstTel would like to take this opportunity to thank Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, chief and council of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Ogimaa Duke Peltier and the Board of Directors of Enaadmaagejik Development Commission, for their commitment in providing alternative telecommunications Internet broadband service to residents in the village of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory.”

Ms. Sandford went on to explain that “four years ago, a seed was planted with KNET, Penny Carpenter for the expansion of broadband services in Wiikwemkoong with the announcement of the Connecting Canadians Program Funding. FirstTel was able to use a network of partnerships to facilitate the construction of the wireless broadband with the help of Brian Walters and Irwin Heshka of Wire IE Holdings International Inc. to allow FirstTel to provide an Internet service within the community with a target of 200 households. FirstTel Communication’s project team included: Anne Marie Sandford, Communications Business Manager; Joseph Corbiere, Finance Officer and Rachel Cooper, Customer Service Representative and representatives from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Wiikwemkoong High School, KNET, Wire IE International Holdings and Enaadmaagejik Wiikwemkoong Development Commission.

“Since its incorporation in 2003, FirstTel has been on the leading edge in providing cost-effective alternative telecommunications throughout Ontario for First Nations,” continued Ms. Sandford. “With the funding from the Connecting Canadians Program, FirstTel will facilitate growth and improve the competitiveness of the existing services. We anticipate success in implementing this alternative broadband telecommunications service to increase the opportunities for wealth, opportunity and quality of life for the community.”

Ms. Sandford noted that Wiikwemkoong has been underserved in terms of access to high-speed Internet based on the current technology deployed in the community. “There are a number of areas within the community that either had no service or very limited bandwidth,” she said. “The Connecting Canadians funding has provided FirstTel Communications Corporation the ability to offer an enhanced Internet service with minimum speeds of five Mbps to an area which includes the main Wiikwemkoong community as well as coverage within five kilometres of the new network.”

Ms. Sandford said that the first phase of the new wireless broadband network will incorporate both a new fiber build from Wiikwemkoong High School to the community’s water tower—which is the main distribution point for the wireless network—as well as a new wireless link to the Cape Smith tower owned by the community.

“From these two towers wireless access points will provide high speed wireless Internet to residents, community locations and businesses within a five-kilometre radius of the towers,” said Ms. Sandford. “This same infrastructure will be used to provide more reliable connectivity to two of the schools and several community locations which currently use unlicenced wireless links. The test subscriber locations deployed are experiencing dramatically higher speeds (burst in excess of 50 Mbps) versus their current low speed connections. FirstTel is the ISP offering these services to residents, businesses and other community locations and will be testing other value added services prior to launch which are planned to be offered to customers on the new network. FirstTel’s basic service package is five Mbps with a premium package offering speeds up to 20Mbps plus.”

Ms. Sandford concluded her remarks with acknowledgements of FirstTel’s partners in the project. “FirstTel partnered with and would like to thank the businesses that provided support and equipment such as Enaadmaagejik Wiikwemkoong Development Commission, KNET, Wire IE Holdings International Inc., Wiikwemkoong High School, the Wiikwemkoong Water Treatment Facility, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Eastlink, Hydro One, JJ Pole Lines, Stantec, Greenstick Interactive, Thompson Electric, Anixter, Alliance Corporation,” she said. “Again a very special thank you to everyone who worked very hard to put this exciting opportunity together.”

Following the announcement, a photo opportunity was held with members of the Wiikwemkoong council, Mr. Serré, Ms. Sanford, and officials from Wire IE before a light lunch was served.

In discussion following the official ceremony, Mr. Barlow noted that future expansion plans for FirstTel may possibly include bringing services to Killarney.