Government earmarks $155 million for rural Internet

A joint initiative between Infrastructure Canada, Industry Canada and the Canadian Space Agency will see $155 million devoted to promoting Internet development in rural and remote parts of the country.

The project, announced Sunday, is called the National Satellite Initiative and is designed

to bring high speed Internet access to 400 communities across northern Canada.

Internet access is already available to some of these communities, but largely at dial-up speeds and at rates beginning at $100 a month.

“”They’re lucky to get 8 kbps. That’s nothing,”” said director of broadband for Industry Canada Peter Hill. “”We’re endeavouring to get similar types of service at similar kinds of prices as you would pay in southern Canada.””

About $85 million will be spent on satellite transponders to facilitate Internet connectivity in parts of Canada that can’t be reached by more conventional access points like DSL or fibreoptic connectivity.

Internet access will be made available to businesses and citizens through regional Internet service providers starting early next year. The government will purchase transponders on the open market in bulk in order to save money, but will only purchase as much as is needed.

“”We’re going to be gauging in the coming months the real demand . . . and phasing in the total capacity over time,”” he said.

It’s difficult to assess how much interest there is, especially for residential users, he said. PC ownership in remote communities may be not as high as in southern Canada, but there has to be a starting point.

“”Sometimes it’s a bit of the chicken and the egg. To be fair, most PC ownership really took off in southern Canada when they had something to do with it,”” said Hill.

“”We don’t expect that all of a sudden that every household is going to be lit up with the glow of computer monitors. But in time they’ll have the opportunity to now.””

Hill pointed out that computer usage is actually higher in sparsely-populated areas out of necessity. Not every small town, for example, has a library.

Public sector projects will also benefit from improved access to the Internet. Telehealth projects like remote diagnosis will save citizens in the farthest reaches of Canada from travelling three days just to consult a doctor. Regional offices of the RCMP and ministries like Oceans and Fisheries will also benefit.

In addition to the $155-million investment, the Canadian Space Agency will use a $50-million capacity credit on the Anik-F 2 satellite to serve government users. Anik F2, the latest in a series of Canadian Anik satellites, will be launched into space next year.

Anik actually means “”brother”” in Inuit, said Stéphane Corbin, technology manager at the CSA. The satellite will be one of the first to deliver Ka-band multimedia services. (Ka-band is part of the electromagnetic spectrum used for fixed and mobile satellite communications.)

“”With that we hope to be able to reach to the Northern communities and isolated communities that would normally not have broadband access through normal terrestrial means,”” said Corbin. “”We’re actually moving on this to make this credit accessible to those who need it when the satellite is operational.””

Anik F2, a satellite developed by Telesat Canada, will also have commercial applications like its predecessors dating back to the early 1970s. “”You’re probably using Anik E to watch TV at night,”” said Corbin.

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