Groups partner to build fibre optic network to rural Manitoba First Nations

Lenard Monkman · CBC News · 

Three organizations have announced they will partner in a joint venture to bring high speed internet via a fibre optic network to rural towns and First Nations in Manitoba.

The new partnership will see the three groups — Distinct Infrastructure Group, Clear Sky Connections, and Broadband Communications North — partner into a for-profit corporation known as Clear Sky Indigenous Network.

“With this opportunity coming forward, it will allow us to to become a part of the world economy,” said Opaskwayak Cree Nation Chief Christian Sinclair.

Sinclair said his First Nation has access to the internet but is looking forward to having high speed internet throughout the area.

The group will continue to work with the Manitoba and federal governments, which pledged in January that there would be an $83.9 million investment into building internet infrastructure in remote and underserved communities.

“We recognize the backbone of the infrastructure is critical to ensure that we maximize the opportunities that are available,” said Sinclair.

“That will allow us to capitalize on telehealth, economical development, educational development and many other aspects.”

Economic opportunities for First Nations

Broadband Communications North is one of the partners in the new venture. They are a non-profit community-driven network aimed at improving broadband internet services in First Nations communities in Manitoba.

Ken Sanderson, executive director of BCN, said he is looking forward to working with the newly-formed group.

“With all of our expertise, one of the critical challenges that we’ve seen is the availability of quality backbone infrastructure,” said Sanderson.

“That’s the critical component that’s been missing. If we don’t have backbone, we are super limited with what we can do for communities and the demand is far outstripping what’s available now.”

He has been working with First Nations communities to get consent for the fibre-optic project and sees it as an opportunity for First Nations to own a piece of the network.

“Long gone are the days where we sit back passively and receive services,” said Sanderson.

“We need to be actively part of that. This is what a partnership like this represents.”

Lisa Clarke, CEO of Clear Sky Connections, said she sees this opportunity as a chance for communities to generate revenues.

“We’re just starting the human resources plan for our communities, so that they can start building businesses and training.”

The network is being planned in a way that will allow all 63 First Nations in Manitoba to join, but they also plan on partnering with non-Indigenous communities. The funding has yet to be secured, but they are hoping to start building the fibre optic network by next year.

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The Tribal Digital Village Network (TDVNet) was created with the intent to bring Internet connectivity to the member tribes of SCTCA and empower their people. The Tribal Digital Village(TDV) is a continued set of objectives to help SCTCA achieve its mission thru technology, first and foremost, devised by the community leaders to handle the technical aspects of meeting its mission statement. The primary mission of Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association (SCTCA) is to serve the health, welfare, safety, education, cultural, economic and employment needs of its tribal members and descendants in the San Diego County urban areas.

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