October 1, 2020

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High-speed internet expanding to remote northern Manitoba communities

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development and minister responsible for western economic diversification</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development and minister responsible for western economic diversification

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/1/2018 (995 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

High speed internet is coming to remote First Nations and communities across Manitoba's north.

A $63-million project will bring high-speed internet to 72 northern communities, including 37 First Nations, a group of ebullient federal and provincial politicians and Indigenous leaders announced Tuesday.

Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains told a crowd at the Millenium Library the project is the biggest single portion of an overall $83.9-million promise to improve communications in 112 northern locations.

"Manitoba has the greatest connectivity gap in the country," Bains noted.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday how long it will take to complete the network, or in what order communities will be connected.

Bringing the internet to remote reserves will be "lifting the limits on the young people in these communities," Premier Brian Pallister said.

"Nunavut has better internet connectivity than northern Manitoba," pointed out Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, who said that bringing the world to remote First Nations communities is a much more concrete example of reconciling than just using a "flowery word" such as reconciliation.

Clear Sky Connections, collectively owned and operated by Manitoba First Nations, will build the network across the north.

The project will be funded by governments, Indigenous organizations, private contributors and other sources. Manitoba's $20-million contribution will come through allowing Clear Sky access to Manitoba Hydro's existing fibre-optic cable network and other resources.

Bains said that the overall funding announced Tuesday could bring the internet to hospitals, libraries and community centres in the north as soon as 2019.

"We believe that in this new digital era it’s really critical, not only for education for young people (and) for businesses to succeed in their communities and internationally, but for health care as well," he said.

"There are many benefits associated with this investment that go beyond simply the internet. It has many aspects when it comes to health care, education and helping businesses to grow."

The partners will soon work out a timetable for the project, including which communities will be served first, Clear Sky Connections project manager Jonathan Fleury said.

Work should start this summer, he said.

"It's our commitment to get building as soon as possible," Fleury said in an interview, noting it will take a few years to get the system full operational.

"There's over 3,500 kilometres of fibre-optic cable to be laid. There's a lot of variables — a lot of communities are remotely located. It's going to depend on the winter road system."

The fibre optic cable would be run through aerial ports in some areas, be buried one to two metres underground elsewhere, and be laid underwater in some places all without hurting the environment or wildlife, Fleury said.

Jobs will be created, including hiring in each community served, but Fleury could not yet estimate how many or what type.

"That's what we'll be fighting for as First Nations leaders, jobs in the local communities," said Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson.

"It's going to be a challenge, for sure. It's gruelling work; it's very cold, very remote. It's a long-term vision. The future is definitely brighter.

"It's going to connect communities to the rest of the world," she said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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