There are a couple of organizations that highlight the requirement for equitable levels of access to technology and helped drive in the investment of public dollars into unserved and underserviced territories.

Two of these are the Kuh-Ke-Na, a First Nations Organization located in Sioux Lookout

and the Mattawa and Area Forestry Committee located near Mattawa. Over time the Kuh-Ke-Na became known as K-NET and the Mattawa project became NipNet (Nipissing Network).

These two groups pioneered the movement towards “broadband” deployment in their own regions and became catalysts for private and public partnerships for economic investment.

In the case of the KNET model, an ongoing non-profit corporation provides support and guidance for the deployment of applications to the First Nations communities. Initially, the activities were concentrated around a few communities north of Sioux Lookout in Northwestern Ontario, but over the past five years, the KNET has grown into a nationally recognized organization that is working with First Nations groups from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

In terms of significant impact, the KNET organization is the catalyst for the evolution of the Keewaytinook On-line High School. In this environment children in the remote Northern Communities are able to receive grade nine and 10 curriculum. The program allows the students to stay in their communities two more years before being billeted in larger centers to receive the rest of their education.

KNET has developed a Portal that allows the interactive exchange of community activities, cultural practices and services amongst the previously isolated villages. This can be viewed at www.knet.ca .

The technology has permitted the evolution of healthcare delivery with connectivity to the Sunnybrook Health Center and telephone access to the provincial Telehealth program. The Portal facilitates access to a number of health care websites that helps disseminate information that teaches the benefits and fosters the evolution of a healthy lifestyle.

This project has made a permanent and positive impact into the lifestyle and opportunities afforded to the residents of the remote First Nation communities. Video conferencing, the presence of technical service people in the community, home access to the Internet and the infrastructure services have all had a significant impact on the communities and their outlook for economic and social development.

An organizational contrast to the KNET sustainable non-profit corporation is the ad hoc approach to reacting to a specific need and leveraging public infrastructure funding to close the “capital gap” for private sector investment in infrastructure. Once the investment has been made, market forces and demand for specific services drive the delivery of services and the related network evolution.

The NipNet model of 1998-2002 and the Project Skywire (2004-2005) in the Nipissing area, are ad hoc projects and are not designed to provide on going support and application development, but to create an economic environment that allows private sector business to drive the required capital dollars into the service delivery.

This has made the Nipissing region around North Bay one of the most connected rural regions in the country. At the conclusion of the Skywire (wireless IP) project, over 90 per cent of the rural households and businesses will have access to ADSL, cable high speed, or wireless IP services. The availability of technology has allowed the expansion and retention of home based and small business in these communities.

Topex Inc. is an example of a world leader in explosive technologies. The markets for this company include Algeria, Australia, Brazil, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States. Topex is a notable example of a ‘knowledge economy” business that provides technical support for explosive requirements. It usually involves detailed digital photography and detailed technical drawings to be exchanged over the Internet. This business has its head office in an isolated corner of Bonfield Township 30 kms east of North Bay. The availability of ADSL sponsored by the NipNet project has allowed this economic development opportunity to evolve.

High speed Internet is the critical link for economic development to occur in rural Ontario.

“The importance of having access to high speed Internet is a vital economic development tool for rural communities such as the Mattawa-Bonfield Region of Northern Ontario. In order for the Mattawa Bonfield Economic Development office to demystify the distance perception of Northern Ontario, it is critical for sustainable growth that our businesses and residents have access to competitive high speed internet, whether it be wireless or land line.” commented David Thompson, Economic Development Office (EDO).

The issues surrounding the growth in the GTA are well documented. It is critical that alternatives exist for businesses to expand or relocate to communities that can provide quality of life as well as the necessary access to technology.

Bernard Rochefort Ltd., a contracting company with 40 employees in Astorville, Ontario is one of the early adopters of the wireless IP services of Project Skywire. In the North Bay Nugget, February 10 2005, Francine Rochefort identified that changes in industry make it a necessity to have a high speed internet. “It is very rare that manufacturers send information on paper anymore. It usually only available on their websites” Rochefort said.

It is this basic tenet of business development that assumes the existence of high speed services and without these services economic development is significantly handicapped.

“The Export Development Office of the North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce was established in 2001 to assist new and existing small and medium sized businesses with the development of international trade. Clearly communications in this area is an integral part of infrastructure required for economic development. It provides businesses with access to global information and marketing sources.

It can be considered the great leveler as distance becomes irrelevant and thereby mitigates remoteness in the equation. With the assistance of a good telecommunications broadband structure, a small rural business can be placed on an equivalent platform as a business in an urban setting.

To compete successfully in the global marketplace this type of connectivity is essential. Gone are the days when businesses can rely on snail mail, fax transmission and voice networks. In today’s global business environment success depends on connectivity through the internet…..if you don’t utilize it you simply won’t be able to compete effectively and you definitely won’t exist in the long run.

This new age of telephony has sparked a new breed of entrepreneur in business. The urban businessperson conducting business worldwide is beginning to re-establish business in rural settings with an attempt to “can have his or her cake and eat it too”. We are beginning to see what have been characterized as urban businesses transferring to rural settings because these business people are astute enough to seize the opportunity of working and playing in the same space. The fundamental ingredient for this transformation is the reliable availability of effective global connectivity. “ said Jay Aspin, Export Development Advisor , North Bay & District Chamber of Commerce.

Clearly the impact is significant.

The value of the injection of a limited amount of public money into infrastructure is a critical component of economic growth outside of the Canadian urban environment.

The essential premise is not to give anything away, but the public interest can be well served by carefully determining the “capital gap” that will make service development sustainable. It has become clear, that a local “champion” needs to be the catalyst to move the process forward. The specific model will be contingent on the needs of the communities.

In the case of KNET, the guidance of the sustainable Nonprofit corporation was required to move technology forward, however, in the case of the Nipissing region the demand existed and the requirements were limited to an ad hoc organization to spearhead the project and identify the requirements.

As Roberta Fox described in her article last month “The Power of IP”, the various IP and standards-based technologies now available in the workplace, from a dentist chair, and available to a remote telework Consultant living in North Bay enable professionals to be in virtual contact with the information we need to work together, disregarding location.

Clearly, ubiquitous deployment of high speed, IP-based technology eliminates distance as a barrier to conducting business disregarding location.

Any organization faced with increasing real estate and operations costs in large urban areas combined with growing trends to staff wanting to leverage a lower cost, quality of life as professionals can consider rural Ontario as a viable alternative.

Bill Elliott is the B.A.S. director – business development & consulting for Fox Group. He welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback on this topic. If you would like to discuss this topic further. Feel free to send him an email to bill.elliott@foxgroup.ca or call him at 905.294.2821 x 1400.

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