B.C. Communities prepare for National Satellite Initiative Transition

British Columbia – British Columbia

Monday, 18 March 2013, 11:23 AM
By Erin Currie and Genevieve Leis

Remote communities that cannot access land-based networks receive connectivity services through satellite connections. Many currently receive subsidies for these services through a federal program called the National Satellite Initiative (NSI).

In British Columbia, the First Nations Emergency Services Society of BC (FNESS), the First Nations’ Technology Council (FNTC), and a satellite service provider, Norsat International Inc. have provided 17 remote First Nations satellite-served communities with Internet access since 2008. As of March 31, 2014, the NSI funding is scheduled to end. This has resulted in the need for communities in B.C. to consider how to undertake this transaction.

FNTC is working with various First Nations to manage this longevity planning. The organization is hoping this transition will not only be successful in terms of providing services, but may also enable communities to connect in ways that benefit local people and organizations. FNTC was able to give insight into how this important transition will occur. FNTC spoke of three options for the communities.

The first is for the B.C. Broadband Satellite Initiative, a government funded program that provides high-speed Internet connectivity in remote communities, to assist with funding and Norsat. This funding will be decided on in March 2013.

The second option is for Norsat to continue providing connectivity services. If this option is chosen, communities would begin paying for their own connectivity as of April 2014 (rather than paying for it through public subsidies through the NSI).

The third option is for communities to lease commercial satellite bandwidth and become their own Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In this case, possession of and responsibility for local broadband services and associated infrastructure could be transferred to the community and Band.

This final option may be difficult at first, but can also be rewarding over the long term for several reasons. Communities may not have enough technical or management capacity to become an ISP at first. As a result, FNTC is focused on providing training to people from the communities if they are interested in transiting from managed services to take on that role themselves.


Over the next year, the organization is also working with the communities to plan the transfer and make informed decisions for future development. One goal of this work is to support community members in resolving technical and management issues locally, rather than relying on an external service provider. This approach also enables communities to develop and manage their own broadband-enabled public services, and generate some local employment opportunities.

NSI already supports many positive outcomes made possible through the introduction of connectivity and Internet access in these communities. Some youth are working towards finishing their high school education online, rather than having to travel far outside of their communities to attend school. Internet connections enable communities to communicate with each other, including during emergencies. For example, several villages on Vancouver Island used their satellite connections to share information about a tsunami warning following an earthquake. Without the ability to communicate, some communities may not have learned about this warning. One community used connectivity services to establish a local healthy eating initiative. They ordered fresh fruits and vegetables to be delivered periodically to their community. This project is not possible without access to the Internet.


The communities involved in this work also highlighted some challenges about the NSI project. They raised concerns about the reliability of Internet connectivity, and whether or not the service is beneficial for local people. In many communities, people lack awareness of the benefits of connectivity. Some communities question how they can use connectivity for applications beyond email and Facebook. One community faced a case of extreme bullying that occurred via Facebook, which tarnished peoples’ opinion of social media and more generally, the Internet.

This questions and concerns are valid, and important for communities to consider in the months ahead. With one year to go before the transition, FNTC hopes to work with the communities to raise greater awareness of the benefits that connectivity – and locally owned and operated community networks – can offer.


Find out more

Read about First Nations satellite project – the Northern Indigenous Community Satellite Initiative
Read about Fort Severn, a satellite community that set up its own local ISP – and more!