First Nations leaders feel disconnected after the Manitoba government rolled out faster internet and cell service to rural and remote communities without them.
The board of directors of Clear Sky Connections, an indigenous-owned telecommunications company, was unable to secure a meeting with provincial representatives, said company CEO Lisa Clarke.
Clarke said the company is trying to provide fast internet access to First Nations. She said they weren’t consulted enough before a deal was reached with Xplornet, a New Brunswick-based internet service provider.
“I think the province still has the opportunity to meet with First Nations and find a way forward that is not a slap in the face for our communities,” she said.
The agreement with Xplornet will bring nearly 30 First Nations and approximately 270 rural and northern communities online with high-speed broadband service, while 350 communities will receive cell phone service for the first time, the province said. last week.
It is expected that over 125,000 underserved Manitobans will benefit.
First Nations communities want to have their say
Xplornet will use thousands of kilometers of existing fiber optic cables owned by Manitoba Hydro Telecom.
Since the broadband network crosses First Nations lands, Clarke said affected communities should have a say in their use.
She added that the province should have met with its board of directors, which includes chiefs from seven Manitoba First Nations.
“Announce a partnership without [First Nation] consultation or consent denies their ability to choose who they want to work with. It also demonstrates the government’s lack of commitment to engage with indigenous peoples to uphold and preserve their rights to self-determination, ”Clear Sky said in a press release.
A Clear Sky partner made an offer to take over third-party management of the broadband network via a request for qualification in 2019, but was unsuccessful, Clarke said.
Thus, neither Clear Sky nor the business partner participated in last August’s tender, which was won by Xplornet.
Before choosing Xplornet, the province said it was running an open competitive process that welcomed all developers.
“During the process, ministry officials met with a number of communities, community leaders, and First Nations leaders to explain the process, listen to feedback and provide assurance that previous commitments made to communities for the sake of success. ‘fiber access would not be affected,’ the government said in a statement.
Clear Sky was still authorized to connect Nelson House on the Cree Nation of Nisichawayasihk to the fiber optic network last year, although other new activities related to the existing network were suspended while the request for proposal was in progress.
David MacKay, executive director of the Coalition of Manitoba Internet Service Providers, previously told CBC News he was concerned about a major telecommunications company taking over the Hydro line as it could impact the access to fiber cable than several medium to small local telecommunication means. businesses demand.
NDP leader Wab Kinew said local suppliers should have been given priority.
“When it comes to the expansion of the Internet, cellular service in rural Manitoba, northern Manitoba and Indigenous communities across the province, we know that involving these local players is one of the key issues. ways to ensure you get fast speeds and low costs ”. he said.
Clarke said she hopes Xplornet will be a willing partner with smaller vendors like Clear Sky.
The province said Xplornet is committed to working with First Nations communities and directly with First Nations-led businesses to improve connectivity in their communities.