On the grid: ECN hubs bring communications goals closer to fruition

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Having recently started operations in Amos, Eeyou Communications Network (ECN) is now shifting its focus to the next phase of its ambitious internet strategy: giving access to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services across Eeyou Istchee.

On November 1, ECN inaugurated a new hub in Oujé-Bougoumou and met with federal, provincial, municipal and Cree governments to discuss implementing the next phase of their plan. “The installation of the Amos high-capacity centre as our second internet exchange centre means ECN has achieved a secure status with complete redundancy for the network,” said ECN President Alfred Loon.

The additional resources ensure continued connectivity in the event one hub goes down, while increasing download speeds.

The FTTH services will initially be implemented in 4000 homes in the Cree communities of Chisasibi, Wemindji, Eastmain, Waskaganish, Waswanipi, Oujé-Bougoumou, Nemaska and Mistissini as well as Radisson by April 2018. The service will enable every subscriber to access over 150 TV channels, high-speed internet, and regional toll-free telephone service at rates comparable to those in Montreal and Quebec City.

“Our Cree culture has, in fact, never been static. It has always adapted to circumstances and we have always adapted the useful technology offered by contact with other peoples,” said Oujé-Bougoumou Chief Curtis Bosum at the ECN inauguration in his community November 1. “Although we have always maintained our fundamental connection with the land, we have modified the way in which we take from the land that which we need for our sustenance.”

The James Bay Communications Society talked about having effective and affordable internet, telephone and television services for the Cree communities as far back as the late 1980s. JBCCS intervened with the CRTC over the cost of phone services in the Cree communities. They were informed that Hydro-Québec had a fibre-optic line between Radisson and the south. Then the Grand Council of the Crees took over the file and the ECN was born. At the start they provided needed services to the Cree Health Board, Cree School Board, JBCCS, local radio stations and other entities. Hooking up Cree homes with fibre-optics was the next logical step.

With help from federal and provincial agencies, ECN recently completed 950 kilometres of network line, connecting Eastmain and Waskaganish to its network. The company is now preparing for another major construction project to connect the community of Whapmagoostui to the ECN regional grid with fibre-optic service.

“By improving the communications networks within the region, we are also coming more easily into contact with people beyond our region, beyond Quebec and beyond Canada,” said Bosum. “This technology will increase our ability to part of a larger world – a global world that is becoming in many ways smaller and people from very distant parts of the globe are becoming closer, and we are looking forward to being part of that.”

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