First Nations Community Networks

Greetings! I’m honoured to write a blog for the First Nations in British Columbia portal. Although I’m from a small island off the coast of B.C. and now based in Vancouver, I work as a postdoctoral researcher with the First Nations Innovation project at the University of New Brunswick. I am working with several communities and technology organizations to explore how indigenous peoples are developing and using information and communication technologies (ICTs). In this blog, I will be writing about some of the many innovative technology projects taking place in First Nations communities. Please email me with your ideas and stories.

A few months ago, Norm Leech from the First Nations Technology Council and I wrote an article for the Vancouver Sun describing how First Nations are building and operating their own community broadband networks. These projects demonstrate some of the innovations taking place in communities. They include online education, e-health, culture and language programs, web design companies, and even cellular phone services. The availability of broadband infrastructure provides a platform for a variety of community and economic development initiatives.

However, many First Nations still lack access to reliable, affordable, and robust broadband. Many rural, remote and northern communities cannot access digital networks – and those that can often pay high costs for relatively slow services (compared to what’s available in urban centres like Vancouver). This challenge is only growing as digital technologies are further integrated in our societies and economies.

But while this challenge persists, various organizations are working on solutions. In this blog I will be looking at ways that First Nation communities and organizations contribute to this process. Broadband initiatives can support community development, highlight local innovation, and overcome digital divides, focusing on the one-the-ground work taking place every day. Across B.C. and Canada, First Nations are addressing the problem of 'digital divides' themselves – leveraging it as an opportunity for community and economic development.

This work includes First Nations community networks – like the Seabird Island Network in the Fraser Valley. Websites like the First Mile and First Nations Innovation are documenting and celebrating these initiatives. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, these projects have developed several resources, including a national report published in 2010 and more than 50 academic articles on First Nations broadband initiatives through the First Nations Innovation Project.

These community networking and ICT projects also face many challenges, among them access to funding and local capacity, and a highly complex regulatory environment. But First Nations are addressing these barriers in many innovative ways. In this blog I will also explore these issues, with the goal jointly exploring potential solutions.

For example, in my next post, I will describe a recent regulatory hearing before the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunciations Commission (CRTC). The hearing focused on digital infrastructure and services in the Canadian north – including parts of northern B.C. I will discuss how a group of First Nations technology organizations and university researchers appeared at that hearing to present how northern residents can be offered opportunities as producers as well as consumers of telecommunications services. Stay tuned!

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