Chapleau pins hopes for growth on broadband connection

A remote community in Northern Ontario Wednesday turned on a broadband connection for the first time, opening up new opportunities for business, education and health care.

Through a partnership with Bell Canada and Nortel Networks, Chapleau, Ont., (pop. 2,303) is now equipped upgraded fibre and a wireless mesh network, a Nortel product that extends the reach of traditional wireless LAN solutions. The project was first announced in July.

The town, located about 320 km. northeast of Sault Ste. Marie, is something of an experiment for the two Canadian vendors and an opportunity to showcase the possibilities of broadband for the nation’s remote communities.

“We’re eager to put this technology to work for you,” said Bell CEO Michael Sabia during a launch event held in Chapleau. “You created a tremendously strong community over the generations and this technology is really about enabling you to build on that, to continue to overcome, in even better ways, the barriers of distance, to open up new ways of thinking about what’s possible in the world today.”

Sabia was unable to attend in person due in inclement weather but appeared via videoconference, which itself was a test for the new broadband infrastructure.

The connection will be used in local schools for e-learning; by nearby hospitals to deliver telehealth applications for those unable to reach doctors directly; by local firms that wish to take their businesses online; and to connect nearby First Nations groups.

Chapleau Mayor Earle Freeborn lamented that the community has experienced job losses recently due to large companies departing the area. Rather than “suffer the consequences, our community has decided to be proactive in encouraging investment in infrastructure. Part of that vision is being realized today.”

Freeborn urged community members to use the broadband infrastructure as a means to develop “best practices” by encouraging co-operation between public and private sector organizations.

“It not only gives Chapleau the opportunity to allow local companies the opportunity to thrive internationally, but it also allows public sector organizations to offer more services,” he said.

Carl Condon, vice-president for technology development at Bell Canada, said that Bell and Nortel have finished “the heavy lifting piece of the project – the networks are all in place and all running.” However, the companies will continue to evolve the network over the next year and a half and observe how broadband is changing the community.

Researchers from institutions like the University of Toronto and Laurentian University will also use the time to gauge the impact of broadband on government, education, business and the community’s culture as a whole.

The town has also created a portal called Chapleau.ca. The site is designed as a tourism and information portal but also features instructions for local residents on how to sign up for broadband. According to the site, locals can visit the “Connecting Chapleau” office for a tutorial and the equipment they need to get connected.

Bell’s Sabia said Chapleau is an ideal test case for remote deployments of broadband given its size and relative isolation. The company plans similar deployments in other communities in the future.

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