The Eeyou Communications Network/Réseau de Comunications Eeyou
by Hyman Glustein and Alfred Loon
Eeyou Communications Network/Réseau de Comunications Eeyou is a regional fibre-optic network serving all Eeyou Istchee communities and towns in the James Bay region. Owned by the Cree Regional Authority and the Cree School Board in partnership with neighbouring non-Aboriginal townships and school board, it provides a full range of IP services including Internet transit (wholesale) services and defines its mission as “new technology with a social mission.” ECN intends to connect to various competitive and public networks including the Canada-wide Réseau d’informations scientifiques du Québec (RISQ) educational and scientific research network. Centered in the north-western area along James Bay, ECN is a non-profit organization that reaches beyond standard business models to deliver broadband infrastructure and connectivity to all towns and communities in the area, both First Nations and non-First Nations. The network has a capacity to deliver a 10 GB broadband feed. It bases its revenues on users paying a proportion of the operating, expansion and equipment renewal costs.
ECN is a regional network serving the public including 14 local Councils, two regional governments (Cree Regional Authority, L’Administration régionale Baie-James), two school commissions (Cree School Board and Commision Scolaire de la Baie-James), two regional health councils and two hospitals. ECN uses modern fibre optic technologies and supports Quality of Service (QOS) for the delivery of voice, data, video and Internet traffic and ECN will connect the region to diversified service providers and networks.
ECN has developed an expandable and scalable broadband infrastructure network that is dedicated to serving the short-term and long-term connectivity needs of the remote and rural communities in the area. It will enable a full array of connectivity services to communities including nine Cree and five non-Native James Bay communities in the region. (www.eeyou.ca/SyllabusE.pdf)
ECN, a $29 million network, is intended to do more than provide broadband infrastructure and connectivity. It has set out a goal to train and teach regional resources and Cree youth in telecommunications technology. At the network launch, former ECN Chairman and Grand Chief of the Crees Matthew Coon-Come stated:
These new capabilities (the IP and broadband technologies) will help our young people succeed and serve our own community at the same time. This means communities can develop the local resources and technologies to operate [and] to maintain this network. It also means we can develop jobs, skills and human resources.
Not only will ECN allow for the deployment of new broadband infrastructures, it will also develop training centres to provide quality education in the IT field, to stimulate local capacity to deliver connectivity. The goal of those training facilities is to develop local operators who will remain in their own communities to support the growing demand for connectivity resources and ensure the broadband infrastructure meets the local and specific needs of each community.
According to ECN Chair and founding member Alfred Loon, “We set out with a modest goal: to use the resources at hand to do what is possible. Today with construction crews across the James Bay territory with 1,500 kilometres of fibre, we have surpassed our expectations.” The area is currently served by one telephone service with dated microwave facilities. “In August 2011, we will enable the introduction of the latest telecommunications services to our communities,” he said.
Startup funding for the broadband infrastructure provided by the Cree Regional Authority, who conducted feasibility and engineering studies, environmental evaluation and business and technical assessment for the proposed network. Under its leadership, the network was created from a number of diverse partners who have traditionally been on opposite sides of the negotiating table: Hydro-Quebec, local non-Native residents and townships, the governments of Quebec and Canada and the Cree communities. Also, combining the technical facilities of Hydro-Quebec and substantial new construction, ECN utilizes a number of innovative advanced broadband infrastructure technologies including the use of very long-haul fibre optic spans of up to 275 km without signal regeneration, lowering costs and increasing reliability. All infrastructures and engineering had to take into account temperatures under minus 50°C.
Ashley Iserhoff, ECN Chairman (and Deputy Grand Chief of the Crees) from 2005 to 2013, notes that the network support connectivity by “connecting the peoples, institutions and businesses of the north and enable a full range of telecommunications services and it will advance the ways the communities work”.
Currently, urban-centered telephone systems serve this area of the north with dated technologies. With ECN set to launch in 2011, these northern communities in James Bay will be leading the way in regional broadband infrastructure and connectivity, and consider that their experience may provide guidance for national and international applications.