An agreement announced earlier this week between Inukshuk Internet Inc. and the Kativik Regional Government will see broadband service available to the Nunavik region in Northern

Quebec.

Nunavik, comprising 14 Inuit municipalities north of the 55th parallel, has had rudimentary Internet access available over satellite, but Inukshuk’s non-line-of-site wireless broadband will bring the region up to speeds commonly associated with cable and DSL service.

Inukshuk is owned by Microcell, which operates the Fido cellular brand and which reached an agreement with Allstream and NR Communications last year to sell non-line-of-site broadband to the small and medium business market. While that arrangement is pending Industry Canada approval, Inukshuk has deployed the technology in remote parts of Canada that are unreachable by conventional Internet broadband standards. Areas including Yellowknife and Iqaluit received broadband access earlier this year.

Larry Watt, a spokesperson for the Kativik Regional Government, said that broadband for Nunavik’s 11,000 residents should help transform the region.

“”It’s going to be affecting both the residents and the organizations, including the schools. It’s going to be a very good administrative tool, a business opportunity tool and an education tool. We see the benefits coming towards us right away,”” he said.

Each of the 14 municipalities requires a communications tower to access the network, said Dean Proctor, vice-president regulatory for Montreal-based Inukshuk. One tower should be sufficient for each community, since each has a coverage radius of several kilometres.

Hardware partner NextNet is supplying the base stations for each tower plus the wireless modems, which can be attached to any computer or laptop. The equipment and towers are being installed by locals who worked on the earlier pilot project to install satellite-based Internet.

That project may have only provided the communities with limited dial-up access to the Internet, but will serve as a vital piece of the region’s broadband initiative.

“”To connect that to the Internet and the rest of the world, one of the biggest problems you’re facing with remote communities is how to get the data out,”” explained Proctor. “”Kativik has already had a satellite system operating in the 14 communities, which can be used to provide a back-haul for this system once the system’s in place.””

The communities will access the network independently, so if service goes down in one municipality through a problem with the tower, the rest will continue to operate. The only problem, said Proctor, would be if the satellite backbone fails, since that’s the sole connection to the outside world.

The most challenging piece of the project may be working out a feasible cost structure for Internet access. “”There’s a lot of things here that cost a lot in the North. One of the things we want to avoid is to make it too expensive, because it’s going to turn people off,”” Watt said.

Watt added that the government is aiming for broadband rates that are similar to the rest of the country and is looking for a regional ISP to sell the service. “”The ISP would have to make sure it’s a feasible venture. It’s kind of a complex situation, because we only have a limited number of people here . . . so it’s not your typical business scenario,”” he said.

The first community to receive the service is Kuujjuaq, the largest municipality in the area and headquarters for the Kativik Regional Government. The other 13 should be completed by the end of the year.

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