Paqtnkek residents say project is good move for community ‘toward the future’

An aerial view of Paqtnkek First Nation. A three-phase project to connect the entire community to Wi-Fi will start construction June 11. (Dennis Pictou)

Paqtnkek First Nation in Nova Scotia will begin construction this June on two towers that will deliver free internet access to homes in the community.

The $600,000 communications initiative, which is being co-funded by Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, will provide Wi-Fi to more than 130 homes in the community 25 km east of Antigonish, N.S.

Construction will begin June 11 and phase one is expected to be completed and operational by mid-July, with the remaining area of the reserve gaining access by the end of August.

“For the band to do this, they applied to the CRTC for a licence to become a wholesale telecommunications provider, and in fact, were granted a 10-year licence,” said Richard Perry, Paqtnkek’s communication advisor.

Richard Perry is the communication advisor for Paqtnkek First Nation. (Richard Perry)

Two antennas will be built, which will broadcast a signal spanning up to 35 kilometres. Every home will be equipped with a small dish that will receive the signal and relay it to a router box, delivering a dedicated individual signal for every home. Residents can expect speeds of 20+ Mbps, competitive with other local service providers.

Lightening the load

Several band members are optimistic about what this project will do for the developing First Nation, expressing the financial benefits that would come from elimination of paying internet fees.

“Stuff like this will go to fund food and just making people more comfortable when it comes to day to day activities all over the year,” says band member Gabriel Robitaille.

The band has partnered with Halifax-based IT company Robotnik to install the systems into every home and to help with the erection of the towers. The company will also help Paqtnkek gain technical independence by offering training and hiring Mi’kmaq personnel to assist with the maintenance of the operation.

Paqtnkek resident Merina Sark said that it’s a great idea.

“It’s a really great move for our community toward the future,” said Sark.

“I always truly believe that we need to educate our people in everything. There’s always someone in your community that has those skills. You’ve just got to find [them].”

Paqtnkek’s director of administration Darryl MacDonald is confident the project will be a success, and hopes the First Nation will be able to help other reserves seeking to invest in similar projects.

The reserve will also be providing free Wi-Fi to its new commercial area as an enticement to businesses.