Attawapiskat is on its way to having better access to the information highway.  A recent announcement by the Western James Bay Telecom Network, a community based entity that was established to bring broadband service to the James Bay coast, has stated that a new fibre optic cable has been launched to connect the remote First Nations of the Mushkegowuk territory to a reliable and affordable high speed internet service.  Funds for this modern service amounted to $8 million to provide necessary equipment and installation of about 500 kilometres of fibre optic cable.  This cooperative effort was made possible through the support and contribution of Mushkegowuk Council, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, FedNor, Health Canada and the First Nation communities of Attawapiskat, Kashechewan and Fort Albany.

This announcement is a great relief for people along the coast who have had to deal with unreliable internet service for many years.  Most people used dial up internet service without much success and during the past decade, many households and businesses were connected to shared satellite internet access.  It has been a regular complaint with many people along the coast that there just was not enough internet service for their communities.  I have heard of individuals who stayed up late at night or into the early morning waiting for the right time when fewer people used the internet and the connection would speed up.  It got to be a bit of a joke because many people kept monitoring the connection waiting for the right time to use the internet. It meant late nights for many people and a constant roller coaster ride in terms of scheduling.

Over the past decade people have experienced less than perfect internet service and that has frustrated many computer users.  Let’s face it, these days anyone interested in the internet needs a fast high speed connection  to really take advantage of what the world wide web has to offer.   A decade ago, we were amazed to be able to download high quality digital images and view graphics on internet pages.    Currently the trend is moving towards providing videos, sound clips, high end graphics and digital media presented in more complicated formats.

On a routine basis we receive alerts from all of the software companies that provide our programs. These alerts demand that we download updates and that necessitates a fast connection. If we want to keep our computer running at an optimum speed with few glitches we must obey corporations such as Norton, Windows, Adobe and Firefox just to name a few.  I recall a few years ago when I was on dial up and dealing with the frustration of scheduling my update downloads before I went to bed at night with the hope that they would be finished in the morning.

This new development for everyone up the coast is one more bit of evidence that things are getting a little better for our remote communities.   I recall when cable television arrived in Attawapiskat in the early 1990s.   Our community did not feel so small or remote once we had access to such a vast window to the world.   I am sure that once the high speed connection is made fully available to every household in Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan people will feel a little more connected to the outside world.

A better connection to the world wide web has a lot to offer to people who are physically isolated from the rest of the world.  Not only is this type of connection capable of presenting new information and ideas, it will also allow individuals to interact and communicate with others around the world.  The First Nations leadership who led this project did so with the intention of providing people an opportunity to access affordable education, employment, medical and telehealth services through the information highway.

I know that my family members who run their own businesses will be very happy to be able to take advantage of everything that reliable high speed connectivity represents. My young nieces and nephews will broaden their horizons through all that the world wide web has to offer.

The only downside I see to all of this wonderful development has to do with that fact that more people will be spending so much time sitting in front of a monitor. As First Nation people we already are experiencing a big problem with diabetes for all kinds of reasons related to genetic predisposition, diet and inactivity. The more time we spend on the internet could translate into tragic results. Sometimes it might be a good idea to turn off the computer, unhook from the world wide web and step out the door for a long walk and some fresh air. Maybe it is time for someone to invent a computer system that will only work if we peddle a bike type generator to provide electricity to run it. Are there any mad inventors out there?