When broadband finally hits Eeyou Istchee this fall, it won’t just mean that Crees will finally be able to run an iPhone or play Farmville at regular speed as a flood of new technologies geared at everything from online learning to medical diagnoses at a distance will finally be available to the north.

“Information technology means more than digits and data. It means that new skills will be acquired by our people – and new job opportunities will be created for the youth in our communities.

“It will also open doors for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of our region to exchange ideas, to expand markets and to develop new ways to provide for our people’s future,” said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come at the Telecom 2011 Conference in Rouyn-Noranda June 7-8.

Coon Come was on hand as the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance and Rouyn-Noranda Mayor Mario Provencher co-hosted the Telecom Conference to mark the launch of Eeyou Communications Network (ECN) broadband services.

Come this fall, not only will Crees be able to explore every single thing that the Internet has to offer but the extension of service to Quebec’s James Bay Crees will open up a world of services never available previously.

According to John Traversy, Executive Director of Telecommunications for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), ECN’s fibre-optic network has the capacity to meet the broadband Internet needs of the 30,000 people in communities across the James Bay region.

Proudly discussing what will happen with the network, Traversy said the upcoming ECN will bring Crees into the 21st century by “giving them service that is comparable and competitive to that offered in Canadian cities.

“It ensures they have the right tools for social, cultural and economic development, such as telemedicine, tele-education, distance learning, public-safety initiatives, multimedia applications, e-government services, high-speed Internet access, and third-generation mobile devices just to name a few.

“And it helps to drive economic growth and encourage job creation across the region.”

While speaking to an audience of 175 delegates, comprised of Crees from the communities and folks from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, Traversy stated that by 2015, all Canadians should have access to broadband speeds of at least five megabits per second. In the past, those in the communities have been limited to about one megabit per second, a speed not fast enough to keep up with today’s ever advancing technological world.

Traversy went as far as praising the ECN as a model for service delivery across Canada as the Internet service providers partnered with different levels of government to create the successful funding models that met the growing demand for this technology.

When the ECN starts up delivery this September, it will bring full broadband services to not only all nine Cree communities but also to Chibougamau, Chapais, Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Matagami, Radisson and Saint-Félicien.

But, just how much will medical care in Eeyou Istchee change with these new online add-ons?

Dr. Paul Émile Barbeau, director of medical service for the Ville Marie hospital and a family doctor, presented a study by Johanne Desrochers, Associate Director of Telehealth at the McGill University Health Centre, on exactly what the Telehealth program will be able to bring to the north. Because the number of healthcare specialists is limited throughout Quebec, plugging the north into the Réseaux universitaires intégrés de santé (RUIS) can now make specialized services available to everyone in their home territory.

Now through the RUIS, doctors in the north will be able to connect with specialists to assist in diagnoses and provide better patient care to ensure that outlying regions get the same quality of service as large cities.

And, medical care improvements are just the beginning. Considering the new opportunities for Crees to educate themselves, Cree governance to stay connected and the endless economic potential available through this new advancement, the strength and prowess of the Cree nation will no doubt flourish even more.

“Eeyou Communications Network is a broadband network that serves its region. It is a partnership of the major services of our region. It will be a public facility open to all in our region. It is a bridge providing a basic link, a bridge that is open to all and a bridge that reaches beyond community boundaries. It is a network connecting networks.

“Our territory is on the move. It is becoming a less remote region of this country. With broadband telecommunications, distances can now be calculated in microseconds.

“With advanced communication services and infrastructure, we will be a full partner in the new Information Technology economy, a sector that in the past has been severely inaccessible,” Coon Come stated in his address.

While Coon Come is excited about this advancement and as broadband will now be available to anyone who wants it, the major question Crees should be asking themselves is how they can best tap into its potential.