Prior to the installation of the new network, Saugeen was only able to access low-speed DSL with a connection speed of 1mb/s, and many homes outside the main village were only able to access 56kb/s dialup. Joel Solomon, Junior ICT for Saugeen First Nation, was frustrated with the services that were available to the community, and he began researching different options for high-speed services.
Wireless was not an option because of the number of trees in the area, so they decided to pursue a fibre-optic network. Through this pursuit, they were put in touch with Doug Atkins at Gillispies Digital Office Solutions in Owen Sound. He put Saugeen First Nation in touch with FibreXpress, a Commercial Data Solution Service Company based in Holstein, Ontario. Soon, Saugeen First Nation began working collaboratively with Fibre Xpress to build the network.
The build received a combination of funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Industry Canada, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC, which has been replaced by Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada), as well as local revenue from broadband services.
The network was built completely underground, which makes it durable and easy to manage. It is also more ecologically sensitive, as it causes little environmental disturbance.
Saugeen community member, Ryan Kewagesnig, was also trained to handle and splice cables. His skills make it possible for the band to add additional connections in the future, as they are needed.
Outside of construction, there has been support for the project from band staff and administration, including Chief Randall Kahgee whose experience as a lawyer helped the project through some of the trickier negotiations. “Everyone was involved in some way! It was a very community-driven project,” said Solomon.
Saugeen First Nation owns the network and they are responsible for everything from billing to connections to network maintenance. The network allows for the First Nation to provide broadband services, as well as Voice over IP services at a relatively low cost to band members. The network also services local summer cottages, which allows for a more sustainable business model.
“The whole idea of the project was to make everyone’s life a little bit better,” said Joel Solomon. Now, thanks to the network, business are able to effectively run POS and security systems, administration is able to use videoconferencing successfully, and young people who study off reserve are able to do online research and keep up with their peers.