K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) is proposing to lease out its existing telecommunications infrastructure to northern communications giant Northwestel.
The band brought the idea to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearings in Whitehorse on June 19 & 20 as an alternative or addition to the company’s proposed modernization plan.
“KFN wins,” the First Nation’s information technologies manager Lyle Fabian told The Hub. “We get economic development and we show the CRTC an alternative.”
The band acquired funding from CanNor starting in 2007 to build $1.2-million worth of infrastructure for wireless communication on the Hay River Reserve.
In 2011, the band office and the KFN daycare were linked, along with other community organizations, to make communication between the different branches of local government easier and more efficient.
Fabian said he has plans to extend that network about 14 km to link up with Highway 2 – as well as NWTel’s backbone infrastructure – and provide wireless coverage that would make development along the stretch of road linking the Hay River Reserve to Hay River more attractive.
“It’s all about redundancy,” he said, explaining the cables that currently run Internet and telephone service to the community stretch across the Hay River near the West Channel Bridge. “A few years ago, those went out and the reserve was without communication capabilities for days.”
Fabian, part of the KFN delegation representing the only NWT First Nation to gain intervener status at the hearings in Whitehorse, said leasing the community’s existing infrastructure to Northwestel would not only be beneficial to the company in helping it meet its mandate from the CRTC to increase competition, but Northwestel would save the $1.2 million in capital investment.
“The CRTC wanted to hear alternatives to (Northwestel’s) modernization plan that could benefit the North,” he said. “We are 100 per cent aboriginal-owned, and when the CRTC asked, ‘Isn’t leasing to Northwestel, in essence, competition?’ I said yes. Isn’t that the mandate they’ve been given anyway?”
Furthermore, Fabian insisted access to the network would be available to anyone at the same rate, making it easier for smaller companies like ICE Wireless to gain a foothold in the area.
“Right now, they own the highway,” he said, likening Northwestel’s backbone infrastructure to a toll road. “They can charge whatever they want for people to use it and they march in and say they’re doing you a favour just by offering the service in the first place.”
Apart from working to expand the existing KFN network, Fabian is reaching out to other communities in the North, trying to help them create their own wireless infrastructure.
“A lot of communities don’t realize they can build their own,” he said. “It’s not as complicated at Northwestel makes it out to be. We did it with five trained local guys.”
Although any agreement remains in the discussion phase, Eric Clement, the external communications manager for Northwestel, told The Hub that leasing from KFN is a possibility.
“Northwestel has been in discussions over the last few years with KFN about different opportunities,” Clement wrote in an e-mail. “We are willing to examine new business models to deliver advanced services to the community. One of those options may include leasing or sharing infrastructure.”