Crees fight for faster internet service

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Cree internet subscribers are increasingly fed up with the inferior telecommunications services provided to their communities. Now the Cree Nation Government (CNG) and the Eeyou Communications Network (ECN) are taking action to improve broadband access for the Crees.

A CNG-ECN submission to the Canadian Radio Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), “Review of Telecommunications Service, Basic Services Objections,” requests an audience at a CRTC public hearing next April.

The Cree Nation is calling upon the CRTC and the Canadian government to bring rural and remote communities up to the Canadian standard of telephone, internet and broadband service. The submission argues that health and education institutions as well as household consumers deserve a “basic service objective.” The service provided doesn’t even meet most third world standards according to Cree studies.

“This is the bar for the 21st century,” reads the submission. “When telecoms service providers are receiving up to $750,000 in subsidies and failing to meet these marks, something is clearly wrong.”

The quality of telecommunications services offered to areas outside large urban centres is significantly lower throughout Canada. Rural and remote areas suffer from corporate indifference, lack of infrastructure and reluctance to invest. The “digital divide” between urban and rural areas is widely unequal, despite the fact that these underserved communities already have the technology necessary to meet the needs and demands of their communities.

The big players – Bell, Telus and Rogers – are able to offer the mainstream connection that Cree clients crave, but their services fail to meet modern standards. In northern James Bay, according to the CNG-ECN submission, Telebec and Bell Aliant offer an “up to” 10 megabyte per second connection but rarely deliver. Fibre-optic connections exist in eight of the Cree communities but aren’t efficiently utilized.

The CNG and ECN are calling upon the CRTC and the government of Canada to undertake a review of the services that are provided in northern Quebec and to consider the “best available service” based on the technology available in the different areas of the province.

Because of this the ECN and CNG are insisting on increased investment, maintenance and upgrade of the internet services provided in James Bay.

The presentation to the CRTC proposes a number of changes and adaptations to the funding of telecommunications endeavours. Internet services have become a key element in socioeconomic development.

The ECN, the mission is to make available bandwidth that respects the needs of its users (health, education, and ISPs) at the lowest cost. In so doing, all users benefit as the open-access model makes a significant supply of bandwidth available to all users at reasonable rates.”

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