Broadband officially launched in district

After years of planning, high-speed Internet service officially was launched to 14 communities in Rainy River District last Thursday.
Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi, also the minister of state for FedNor, was on hand for the launch, which was at the Community Centre Gymnasium at Nicickousemenecaning First Nation.
Also present were representatives from Pwi-di-goo-zing Ne-yaa-zhing Advisory Services, the Rainy River Future Development Corp., Bell Canada, and Industry Canada, who all were partners in the project.
“Broadband will help remote and First Nations communities in Northern Ontario to diversify their economies,” Comuzzi said on behalf of Industry minister David Emerson.
“Apart from greater access to online learning and telehealth services, high-capacity Internet will help people communicate with each other, and with the rest of the world, more easily,” he added.
“We may be remote, but we’re no longer isolated.”
Couchiching and Nicickousemenecaning First Nations first had access to the new broadband connection in December, as did the municipalities of Fort Frances, Emo, Mine Centre, and Devlin.
Stanjikoming, Seine River, Naicatchewenin, Lac La Croix, Whitefish Bay 34A, North West Angle First Nations, and the Ojibway of Onigaming, as well as Nestor Falls, are expected to go online in the coming months.
“It’s amazing when everybody pulls together what you can do,” said Dean Bethune, project manager at Pwi-di-goo-zing Ne-yaa-zhing Advisory Services.
“It’s been a long time coming. Let’s hope this is the start of many more partnerships to come,” said Telford Advent, who chairs the RRFDC.
Aaron McIntosh, manager of broadband deployment with Bell Canada, said the cost of broadband here is $44.95/month.
“It’s the exact same price you would be paying on Elgin Street in Toronto,” he said to applause.
McIntosh said Bell also is working on installing technology to access the Internet via wireless radio signals at Lac La Croix First Nation.
“If it works well there, we’ll be using it in other communities,” he noted.
“I understand there are some communities west of Fort Frances that need some work,” he added. “We’re looking into providing access there.”
“The RRFDC and Advisory Services are trying to service the areas not covered,” Bethune said.
The Times first reported in October, 2003 that a joint proposal for funding from Industry Canada’s Broadband for Rural and Northern Development (BRAND) pilot project was accepted.
Initially projected at $1.7 million, the project cost $2.7 million in the end, with Bell Canada contributing $1.53 million.
Industry Canada contributed $890,000 while Advisory Services committed to $339,000.
Bell originally had agreed to contribute 30 percent of the cost of the project, but ended up spending closer to 56 percent. “I really thank them for coming up with those couple extra bucks,” Bethune said.
He also talked about the benefits of high-speed Internet to residents and businesses alike, citing “increased efficiency in First Nation and municipal offices.”
Bethune said the connection would facilitate videoconferencing—a necessity in Northwestern Ontario where people and offices often are spread out over great distances.
Broadband will increase business and tourism industries, and provide new opportunities for students and youth.
“A lot of universities and colleges offer courses online. You couldn’t do that before with dial-up,” Bethune noted. “The benefits will be seen for years to come.”
“We hope through high-speed Internet we can overcome the barriers of distance and set new standards in employment, health care, education, and communications,” said James Leonard II, executive director of Pwi-di-goo-zing Ne-yaa-zhing Advisory Services.
In an interview following the launch, Comuzzi said he currently has a proposal before Prime Minister Paul Martin to extend broadband connections even further.
If approved, the plan will provide broadband access “to every community in Northern Ontario, large and small,” Comuzzi said.
“We will be the first region in Canada to be completely connected to the broadband network,” he added.