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Frustrated First Nations want commitment on broadband connection

THUNDER BAY -- Five First Nations are frustrated that they still don't have broadband internet access six years after a program to connect the communities was announced.
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Webequie band councillor James Suganaqueb (Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com)

THUNDER BAY -- Five First Nations are frustrated that they still don't have broadband internet access six years after a program to connect the communities was announced.

An $81 million program to connect 26 First Nations was announced in November of 2010. While 21 of those communities were connected, cost overruns left Webequie, Neskantaga, Nibinamik, Eabametoong and Marten Falls offline. A Matawa Tribal Council working group has spent the past three years with a shovel-ready plan to get those communities connected but still don't see any commitments from the provincial and federal governments.

Matawa economic development adviser Jason Rasevych said while there was recently announced funding for First Nations in the federal budget, no one knows how that money will be spent or how First Nations can access it.

"At this point we're still unsure how that federal funding is going to be allocated," he said Thursday after the working group met with the provincial and federal governments.

"There's just a lot of confusion there."

Webequie band councillor James Suganaqueb said his community has been penalized for cost overruns on a project that was well out of Matawa's control. Relying on satellites for internet, Suganaqueb said if the weather's bad the community can't get online at all. Even when they do, it's worse than dial-up. That impacts everything from telemedicine to education.

"We feel that we've been left out," he said.