The north is relatively uncharted territory when it comes to major technology choices, but Waswanipi’s Jonathan Saganash is looking to change that in the coming years by providing the Cree Nation with every aspect of new technology they could ever hope for.
Saganash signed a deal in February with ISF, a company out of Val d’Or that was providing Internet access and IT service to the community at the time. Then in September of this year, he took over ISF’s operations and merged them with his fledgling Eeyou Media company.
“It’s a communication tool I want to offer,” Saganash told the Nation. “I want to make sure that people have the proper tools so they can reach as many people as they want, and also to get connected to the world.”
Telephone service, competitive long distance rates and cable TV are included in Saganash’s future plans. He is also looking into the feasibility of household alarm systems.
For now he is concentrating on his 115 high-speed Internet subscribers. For $54.99 a month, Waswanipi residents can get connected to the Internet and get competitive IT service from a company that knows its clients well.
His experience is extensive. He worked at Bell Canada and Telebec as a web developer and in technical support. He also worked at Cyber Media in Gatineau and that is when he realized the need to return to the community to fill the technological void.
His current job at the band office as the Capital Project Manager and Land Registrar are interesting and they pay the bills, but he is now looking to launch his business in the field he says he was born to work in.
“The biggest need up north is competition for pricing, it’s still too expensive,” said Saganash, who also consults with clients to show them how to put together a good bundle, including television, Internet and long distance to suit their needs and save cash.
“Another need I see is good customer service,” he said. “If I provide good customer service that teaches the customer at the same time as we fix their machines, it’s more worth it for both sides. Instead of having another company telling you what to do over the phone, we will be there at your house and at the same time, we will show you the basics.”
Saganash was recently honoured by the band as he took home the Waswanipi Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
While he was in negotiations to take over ISF, community members started dropping their computers off at Saganash’s home, then leaving for Montreal or Val d’Or and expecting it to be fixed by the time they got home. That’s when he realized he needed help.
“I went to the Vocational Training Centre and asked the teacher who would be graduating in computers. That’s when I met and hired David Wapachee. He has been working with me since June and I wouldn’t be able to do it without him.
Saganash bought an eight-megabyte “pipe” that allows him to distribute Internet service. He thought he might have a problem using Telebec lines, but ISF had a grandfather clause that came into effect when Saganash took over, so he was able to rent the required capacity to supply Waswanipi.
Although he foresees an expansion to a bigger pipe in the near future, he currently has enough power to supply around 200 people with high-speed DSL connections.
He also has 12 corporate clients, such as the CHRD and the band council, that rely heavily on his expertise.
Saganash said he started with “five bucks” and went from there. When people pay him, he is able to pay his employee, but a recent meeting with CHRD will eventually give Saganash money, retroactive to August, to pay Wapachee as a full-time employee.
“I see Waswanipi eventually as a regional office,” he said. “In a good five years we’ll be able to provide services in all technology fields across Eeyou Istchee. We have a good concept and a good way to provide services. It’s an exciting time right now.”
Saganash is thrilled, but tired. He cautioned that his company is not ready for an influx of calls from all over Eeyou Istchee as they are still only dealing with Waswanipi customers.
“I’m using my expertise, knowledge and passion to provide these services for the Cree Nation. I’m a single man so this is almost like my girlfriend,” Saganash chuckled. “When you are trying to launch a company like this you don’t have time for anyone or anything else. My phone is ringing day and night.”