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Five Matawa communities to get high-speed access

Provincial and federal governments to spend combined $69.2 million on broadband service to Webequie, Esbametoong, Neskantaga, Marten Falls and Nibinamik First Nations.

THUNDER BAY – Broadband internet access is coming to five remote communities, years after arriving in other remote communities across the north.

Better late, than never, says Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias of the $68.2-million plan to link his fly-in community, along with Webequie, Neskantaga, Eabametoong and Nibinamik First Nations to the high-speed internet through the installation of 880 kilometres of fibre optic cables.  

“If it’s done right, this will improve the lives of our communities,” Moonias said of the announcement, unveiled on Friday by Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains.

“It’s also to bring some hope, to bring some opportunities for our younger generation.”

Eabametoong First Nation Chief Elizabeth Atlookan said there were times in the past five years she thought the project would never come to fruition, a source of frustration for the community’s leadership and its people.

High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury.

Given the opioid addiction crisis that’s landed in her community, it’s about improving their quality of life and accessing medical services taken for granted in non fly-in cities and towns. It’s about being able to start businesses and be connected to the rest of the global economy and providing hope to all who live in remote communities.

“We need to be in the same position as the rest of Canada,” Atlookan said.

Remote check-ups and tele-psychiatry are just two areas of benefits that will help her people, she said.

“It’s not like I can take a patient to the hospital and we don’t even have the service of fast internet. There is a lot of time wasted, a lot of unnecessary deaths.”

The federal government will spend $37.1 million dollars through Bains’ ministry to pay for the project. Another $30 million will be provided by the province. Ottawa will provide the other $2.1 million through its First Nation Infrastructure Fund and Northern Affairs Canada.

“This was the No. 1 issued raised by the chiefs of the Matawa First Nation,” Bains said. “The reason is very simple. Internet is an essential service.”

Bains went on to say it’s critical for remote communities to do business, make themselves stronger, provide proper health and social services and turn ideas into innovation. He added three-quarters of Canadian communities already have access to high-speed internet.

“The high-speed revolution is not just about large cities,” Bains said, acknowledging the world is becoming more and more digitized every day.

This will help level the playing field, he said, providing access to 36 institutions within the five communities, including health-care facilities and schools.

Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle it’s about equality.

“The goal is to create fairness, opportunity and an improved quality of life for people living in these communities,” said Gravelle.

Shovels are expected in the ground by next year.