Fort Severn First Nation’s Community-Based Local Broadband Infrastructure and Connectivity Model

Fort Severn – Ontario

Wednesday, 5 October 2011, 12:36 AM

Visit the Fort Severn First Nation Technology Showcase to learn the history of communications in that community: both before and after the Internet became available.

Fort Severn First Nation operates a community-based local broadband infrastructure and connectivity model that highlights some of the challenges in sustainable management. That community’s network began in 2000 after two years of planning. Fort Severn then became a member of the SMART community demonstration project in 2001, during the early stages of theNorthern Indigenous Community Satellite Network (NICSN). At that time, Angus Miles, who had recently graduated from high school, was hired by KO-KNet as the Community IT Technician, and worked there for half a decade. The Chief and Council of Fort Severn First Nation strongly supported broadband infrastructure and connectivity development at that time, due to its applications in delivering health, education and government services.

The community was connected to broadband infrastructure supplied through KO-KNet’s regional satellite hub in Sioux Lookout. It is a member of the NICSN consortium. The local network team tested hardware and worked on network administration and bandwidth management. In part as a result of their work, NICSN decided that communities must retain local control and ownership of their networks.

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For more stories about Fort Severn First Nation, visit the Fort Severn Technology Showcase Website.

Angus Miles has since moved to the Sachigo Lake First Nation but still travels back to his former home three or four times a year. After he left, the community struggled to maintain the local-level capacity for network administration that Angus provided. While someone was trained to replace Angus, that person left the community and another person had to go through the training and skills development process. Today Fort Severn community member Lyle Thomas is managing local connectivity. Furthermore, in its early days as a SMART community project, there was enough funding to support three people working at connectivity, but once that funding ended, one position was immediately cut. Now there is only one person working there, and all three people originally involved in the SMART project have moved away from the community.

Costs for connectivity in Fort Severn also increased, and the community must continuously be updating its satellite-based broadband infrastructure technology. Increased bandwidth will be made available when Bell Aliant completes its proposed fibre build, which will enable the transition of 12 of the 14 communities in Northern Ontario presently served through the NICSN network from satellite to terrestrial networks. Fort Severn will remain on satellite, but will benefit from the newly available bandwidth.

Angus now works in Sachigo First Nation, which is also a member of NICSN. Local copper circuits are presently used to connect the school, band office and health centre to the satellite network. Two years ago, he began setting up residential satellite Internet services through XplorNet. As first, it was fairly expensive — equipment, the cost to set up, system access fees and so on comes to around $600, so community members would organize groups who share costs. Angus recently completed a certification program to install the dishes, and recently installed a large number of dishes in a neighbouring community. Sachigo Lake First Nation is now building its local coax cable network to provide internet and television to all community buildings, and follows the same delivery model as the local Fort Seven First Nation network.

While the Barrett Ka-Band XplorNet dishes offer a simpler connectivity model than NICSN to set up and maintain, NICSN is a much stronger community-owned model for broadband-enabled public and community service applications. XplorNet serves individual residents and businesses employing a standardized usage policy based on network demand, so bandwidth ebbs and flows based on usage. In contrast, NICSN manages its bandwidth based on application, so it can be better organized for uses like eHealth or distance education. The NICSN service is owned by the community and community members pay the local service provider for their internet and television services.