THUNDER BAY – The province will spend $30 million to connect five Matawa First Nation communities to broadband internet service.
Conservative Premier Doug Ford made the announcement on Friday at the Matawa Education Center in Thunder Bay, said in meetings with Indigenous leaders one thing stood out loud and clear, that access to high-speed internet was a top priority in Ontario’s Far North.
“It brings everyone together,” Ford said. “It opens up so many opportunities to everyone, no matter if it’s economics or school.
“Just imagine, if I went home and told my four girls, ‘By the way, you have no internet access,’ they’d go wild. They wouldn’t know what to do. Just imagine full communities that don’t have it. We’re bringing that opportunity working with your communities.”
The premier, who did not take questions from media, said it’s money well spent.
“It’s going to go a long way, no matter if its economically, education, or even policing,” Ford said.
The money, which NDP critic Sol Mamakwa said was already announced by the previous Liberal government in 2017, follows up on the federal government’s promise to commit $37.1 million to the project through the ministry of innovation, science and economic development and another $2.14 million through Indigenous and northern affairs.
Communities taking part in the project include Marten Falls First Nation, Eabametoong First Nation, Nibinimik First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation and Webequie First Nation.
The project will use advanced fibre-optic cable through the Rapid Lynx network and construction of the network is expected to begin immediately, connecting the communities over an existing network running from Aroland First Nation to Thunder Bay.
Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum called it a banner day for all five communities.
He believes it will lead to economic development and innovation in all five First Nations, which are all tied to closely to the Ring of Fire.
“With this development, there will be a need for broadband and I’m pleased that the provincial government sees this as one of the pieces of the puzzle that needs to come together. As you know, mining facility management organizations are looking at using cloud technology, that reliable broadband provides, to develop systems to monitor mining organizations in a remote environment,” Achneepineskum said.
“Without the broadband we’ll be receiving throughout this project, this kind of innovation is not possible. So let’s plan for more.”
Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford was also hand for Friday’s announcement and called it an incredible opportunity and one that is long overdue, adding that broadband capacity has been underserved in many remote communities for far too long.
“In particular, a couple of Matawa communities have been disadvantaged in this way. This is a legacy piece of infrastructure that’s entirely consistent with the traditions and the values of Matawa. What it means, quite literally, is to join communities not just by rivers, but the corridor of prosperity that we’ve been talking about.”
Tree clearing and brush cutting is expected to begin as soon as the environmental permits are granted and will follow the all-access road from Aroland First Nation to Webequie First Nation, then along winter roads to the other four communities.