If you live in a remote northern community and your child has a worrisome fever, it can be a long, expensive trip just to get him checked out.

Not anymore, though.

Thanks to a partnership with Telesat and Industry Canada, 30 remote Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec communities now

have access to a wide range of telehealth, education and e-government services, such as justice and governance, over a satellite-based high-speed network.

The Northern Indigenous Community Satellite Network (NICSN), which was officially launched late last week, is the first inter-provincial community-owned and operated broadband satellite network in Canada.

Telesat has provided two C-band satellite channels, or transponders, for the federal government to use to provide video, audio and data services to such communities, a contribution the firm estimates is worth $20 million. Industry Canada has kicked in about $12 million.

Dan Pellerin, network manager of K-Net Services, which provides computer services to Keewaytinook Okimakanak in Northern Ontario, said the satellite network will be used to provide a variety of telehealth services. These include teleradiology and mental health consultations via videoconferencing, sentencing hearings for citizens in the justice system, economic development, governance and tele-education.

At the launch, he said, K-Net demonstrated how students in grades 9 and 10 are using the high-speed service for school. The community is also using the service for teacher recruiting and hiring.

“Most times (the interview) is done over a phone now,” he said. “A lot of stuff … where you go for a quick meeting … can be done this way.”

With the additional satellite capacity, K-Net will now be able to connect more communities more quickly and roll out those e-government services, he said.

“Now we’ll be able to do several sites at a time,” explained Pellerin. “The exact number will depend on the bandwidth consumed but we’ll have the capacity. As more and more needs and more applications are requested we’ll have the capacity on the ground to accommodate them. It will simply be a matter of making an application for additional bandwidth.”

Paul Bush, vice-president of broadcasting and corporate development at Telesat, said the contribution of space will be on the Anik F2 satellite, launched last July. Bush said the service is a natural progression of the North’s development.

“Five or six years ago they were saying, ‘OK, now we’ve got basic phone and TV service but what we need now in terms of basic service is access to health care and educational services that are equivalent to what they have in other areas of the country,'”” he said. “”So there has been a lot of work in terms of defining the needs of those northern communities.”

So far 24 of the 30 sites have been connected. Another 17 in Quebec and Manitoba are also in the planning stages.

The biggest challenge of the project, said Bush, apart from the considerable financial implications, has been technical — getting expertise into the remote communities and building the knowledge base so local people can maintain the hardware in remote areas.

But, he said, “This is tried and true technology. There are no issues in terms of it being new. It’s just bringing it together as part of the puzzle.”

According to Pellerin, K-Net will be maintaining the hub, the community will be maintaining the community equipment, the partners Kativik Regional Government in Nunavik, Que., and Keewatin Tribal Council in Northern Manitoba will be maintaining the network management system for their specific area.

“K-Net will be managing the system for Ontario and because we own the management system, we’ll have the final say overall … but it’s partnership between the partners in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba,” he said.

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