In January of this year, Minister of Industry Brian Tobin launched the National Broadband Task Force. The mandate of the task force is to advise the Canadian government on how to make high-speed broadband internet services available to all Canadian communities by the year 2004. The aims of the task force are especially noteworthy for northern communities, where high-speed internet access can make a huge impact, but is in short supply.

The internet is but the latest technological means of rendering the huge sprawl of Canada into a more unified and collected whole. The railroad was the first step in connecting up the country, then came radio and television. “Canada has always faced the challenge of connecting all the citizens in its vast territory,” Minister Tobin said, “we must ensure that all Canadian communities, no matter where they are, can reap the benefits of broadband internet services. Access to high-speed broadband will provide the foundation for improved services such as distance learning and tele-health, and will foster both regional and local economic development.”

The task force is made up of members from all regions of Canada who represent industry stake holders, digital content producers, aboriginal groups, and users in the education, library and health sectors. The goal is to consider the needs and characteristics of communities who, without government involvement, will be unlikely to gain access to high-speed services from the private sector by 2004. Emphasis has been placed on rural and remote communities, since the task force seeks to ensure that Canadians everywhere have equal opportunities to share in the social and economic benefits of broadband. Though there is currently no generally accepted definition of broadband, broadband connectivity tends to be recognized according to speed and capacity. For example, applications like CD audio require over one megabit per second (mbps), while real-time video would require at least 5 mbps.

It is felt that broadband could increase economic self-sufficiency for regions and communities through services such as, accessing e-commerce to sell products and services online, increasing communications facilities, providing improved health care and home care services, accessing distance online learning, and improving the means for residents to express their personal, cultural, and linguistic diversity within their own community as well as nationally.

“The bandwidth up north is saturated,” said Francois Turgeon, coordinator of information and technology for the Cree School Board. “Limitations have been identified. In order to hook up to larger centers, like Val d’Or or Montreal, there is a need for fibre optic cable, which is very expensive, in high demand and short supply.” Turgeon said that there are plans for a partnership between the CSB and Telebec to increase availability of the bandwidth in the north. Planners are only at the preliminary stages of determining what will be needed and what it will cost. This type of project requires long term planning. With the rapid pace at which digital technology evolves, it is necessary to look well beyond immediate needs and to take into consideration what the shape of the industry might be in the more distant future. The proposed partnership with Telebec, who could provide technical support with hardware and service, might be a possible solution for the James Bay region.