It’s about time, in many different senses of the word. For instance, the time it takes to download the simplest things from the Internet in Cree communities. The time it takes to get connected to the Internet, which some Cree community members say can be more than three months. It’s about the time after time that requests have been made to big telecoms to update and expand their services to the Cree communities. And finally, it’s about time that the Crees officially complained to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) about the impractical business models and shoddy service these companies provide in Eeyou Istchee.
The Eeyou Communications Network (ECN) and the Cree Nation Government (CNG) say the Cree communities are being underserved. It’s not only the long waiting period to see if you can even get hooked up, but the long download times. One Mistissini resident said it took over 14 hours to download a movie. Given that most Cree communities are now connected by fibre-optic cable, there is no technical reason that this should be the case.
In researching Internet and cellphone business opportunities I discovered that a $130,000 investment would be amply sufficient to provide hi-speed wi-fi for everyone in Mistissini. That’s just the equipment costs.
Paying the ECN for bandwidth on the fibre-optic system would cost about $8-9 grand more per month. Having 500 subscribers would generate about $600,000 per year. A more conservative 300 subscribers would mean $360G. First year costs would be about $238,000 plus set-up costs of an engineer and such. A rough guesstimate would be an additional $60,000 in the worst-case scenario leaving a potential profit of at least $60,000 for local investors in the first year alone. Adding in the potential sales of wi-fi equipment and cellphones (cellphone purchase and monthly service fees) would make that even higher.
One wonders why such giants as Bell, Telus or other service providers haven’t jumped on this opportunity to add to their coffers and keep everyone happy. That’s not counting the generous subsidies the federal government gives them to provide such services in the North.
Instead, we get slow Internet speeds, indifferent service and what appears to be intentional discrimination in comparison with non-Cree populations in the same territory. For example, Télébec, in December 2013, established an embargo on new services, stating they “cannot commit to any date to solve the current embargo.”
The ECN/CNG submission to the CRTC says Télébec has significantly reduced Internet services to individuals and businesses in Cree communities. Why? The data shows Télébec has no problem providing high-speed Internet service to non-Cree industrial sites.
While service throttling decreases services to the Cree Communities at monthly rates that remain unchanged, non-Cree clients such as the Eleonore Mine face no such restrictions on their bandwidth. Information gathered for the submission says Eleonore Mine with 600 clients get 30% of Télébec’s dedicated service, while 6,000 Cree and Jamesiens north of Matagami made do with the remaining 70%.
Many subscribers in Waskaganish and Eastmain have complained that when they move getting reconnected is a problem. Télébec treats them as new subscribers and they end up on the waiting list.
It’s finally time that we take a byte out of the huge corporations that obviously see the north as a cash cow to be abused and taken for granted, and not as clients they should be competing to serve with basic telecommunication services. This time, let’s do it ourselves.