Until recently, the Eeyou Istchee and the James Bay region of northern Quebec in Canada was a poster child for a rural environment that lacked broadband. Covering an area of roughly 300,000 square kilometers and sporting a challenging climate of short summers and winters (that could dip as low as negative 50 degrees Celsius), the nine First Nation Cree (News - Alert) communities and five non-native Jamesian settlements has until recently survived on slow dialup internet service.
Of course, this took a toll on the area’s development and economic prospects.
“The digital divide is a phenomenon felt in many Aboriginal and northern communities, communities without broadband connections to large centers,” said Matthew Coon-Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Eeyou Istchee Cree, in a recent case study, ECN's Broadband Network Provides Social Empowerment to Northern Quebec.
“This division does more than deprive Internet to the disadvantaged,” he noted. “It affects the way businesses and the economy develop, it affects the way we can attract human resources to the north to support our development; it affects the way health and education is delivered and it makes distant travel necessary, if only to obtain basic services. It deprives the regions of the capability to compete effectively.”
This was all before the Economic & Sustainable Development for the Cree Regional Authority and Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) developed a broadband solution that has made the area an international model for government backed rural communications solutions.
In 2001 the government began looking at ways to improve the area’s Internet situation. It discovered that a utility company had installed a fiber optic trunk line in 1990 to carry proprietary telemetry, and it then partnered with Alcatel-Lucent to develop a broadband solution that overcame such issues as having to go spans of up to 275 kilometers without signal regeneration.
“With Alcatel-Lucent, we bought equipment of the future — sometimes literally in the sense that our area’s unique geography and needs made it necessary to come up with solutions that didn’t yet exist,” said Alfred Loon, director of economic and sustainable development for the Cree Regional Authority. “Some people in our region thought we were a little crazy attempting this, but at the same time they were excited to see what we could create.”
What they created was a 1,400 kilometer fiber optic network utilizing a 10 gigabit communications infrastructure supporting voice, video and data, linking remote communities to global networks and commercial service providers, as well as to government, scientific, medical and educational resources.
Getting there required the scalable broadband infrastructure includes the Alcatel-Lucent’s 7750 Service Router and 7210 Service Access Switch, and the 5620 Service Aware (News - Alert) Manager and the OmniSwitch 6855 Hardened LAN Switch, OmniSwitch 6250 Stackable Ethernet Switch, and a GPS Clocking, UPS and DC plant. It also includes the Alcatel-Lucent IP PBX (News - Alert) Service.
The project has brought the area thoroughly into the present while still remaining remote geographically.
“As we speak we are getting calls from other companies and nations who are interested in how we did it and how they can connect their constituencies in the same way,” said Loon. “There is value to what we’ve learned, so we’re trying to share it with other First Nations across Canada, as well as with people around the world.”
Edited by Peter Bernstein