Project bringing telecommunications to region

A five-year project to improve Northwestern Ontario’s access to the latest technology in telecommunications was completed last month—and the region already has begun reaping the benefits, said project manager Jim Green.
“Our project started out by recognizing there was no competitive broadband in the region,” he explained. “The objective was to get better service and pricing in the region.
“We’re pleased on both counts.”
The “807 Northwest Network” was created through the efforts of Norwest ConX (consisting of TBayTel, the Kenora Municipal Telephone System, and the Dryden Municipal Telephone System), FedNor, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp.
It consists of digital microwave infrastructure from Thunder Bay west through Atikokan, Fort Frances, and Rainy River, and then north to Kenora.
The connection from Kenora east through Dryden, Ignace, and Thunder Bay to Marathon is fibre-optic, with another microwave connection between Ignace and Sioux Lookout.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $15 million.
“The network itself is, for lack of a better word, a pipe,” said Timo Hiiback, manager of business development for TBayTel. “It’s another means of carrying digital-type service between these communities.”
Green stressed the project is not an Internet Service Provider (ISP).
“This project was not set up to offer Internet to people. It was set up to bring the backbone to the community,” he explained. “Our backbone isn’t Internet, but it can carry Internet.”
In fact, the network can carry “anything that’s just data,” Green noted.
The goal of the project was to help hospitals, municipal offices, and university, college, and industrial clients in the region to gain access to the latest technology to improve service and remain competitive.
Hospitals could use the system for remote diagnostics. For example, La Verendrye here in Fort Frances could send X-ray images to a radiologist in Thunder Bay for analysis.
Or a company with offices in both Kenora and Rainy River could put their telephones on one continuous network, so there would be no long distance charges between the two offices.
It also can be used for cellular telephone traffic, videoconferencing, or for high-speed Internet service.
An ISP in one of these communities could purchase access to the network from TBayTel, for example, then resell the high-speed Internet connection to people for private home use.
“It was an amazing project,” said Green, who also worked on similar projects in other parts of Northern Ontario. “But the one up here was enormous compared to the rest.”
Some parts of the network already were running in September, but all sections were active as of last month.