Beaver River Broadband Makes Internet Service Win-Win
Photo by CIRA/.CA
Access to adequate and reliable internet service is vital to communities and their economic development, and Beaver River Broadband is going the extra mile to ensure the economic health of First Nation communities in Saskatchewan. The partnership between Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) and Wood River Internet has the goal to not only provide access to First Nations in the province, but to also employ their people.
Like many current broadband projects, Beaver River Broadband is partly the result of seeing how important access was during the COVID-19 pandemic. MLTC saw that its nine communities in northwestern Saskatchewan—Birch Narrows, Buffalo River, Canoe Lake, Clearwater River, English River, Flying Dust, Makwa Sahgaiehcan, Ministikwan Lake, and Waterhen Lake—needed better service.
“In every one of those communities, we realized access just wasn’t there,” says Tina Rasmussen, Chief Business Officer for MLTC Industrial Investments. “Download/upload speeds were nowhere near the federal minimum. Many communities were lucky if they were getting one or two megabits per second for download.” The Canadian target for minimum download speeds is 50 Mbps, and 10 Mbps for upload.
MLTC’s community program departments saw something needed to change, and was soon talking with Wood River Internet, which provides last-mile services to communities, connecting them to SaskTel’s fibre network. Those conversations illuminated an opportunity to go beyond simply finding a provider.
“MLTC feels that at all times we should be looking for economic development opportunities,” says Rasmussen. With nine nations and 2,500 homes under the MLTC alone, they saw the chance to create a business partnership with Wood River. Not only would the nations get cost-effective access to the internet, but people in the community would also have employment and training options—both in installation and in customer service.
With Beaver River Broadband, the work and the investment are distributed among several players. As a last-mile provider, they don’t have to build the major infrastructure; SaskTel has already handled that. Instead, they can focus on building towers that provide wireless service based on what the community needs and wants. Beaver River also provides customer services, including phone support and local technicians where necessary. Then customers are responsible for signing on and paying a monthly fee for the service—and that fee might be lower than folks would expect.
“This is an affordable solution to get services into their community now,” says Rasmussen. “They can get these services into their communities for minimal investment.”
Beaver River has services up in eight communities—Cowessess, Cochin, Bright Sand, Turtle Lake, Ministikwan, Mudie Lake, Eagles Lake and Birch Narrows—with several more already in discussions. Rasmussen credits some of the progress to relationship building and desire to be part of those communities in the long term, including their practice of offering free wifi for at least one community building in each service area as a way of giving back to the communities they serve.
“This is no fly-by-night operation; this is a permanent solution for MLTC and any other nations or communities we provide service in.”
– Tina Rasmussen
The communities and individuals will benefit from the economies of scale Beaver River can bring, both now and in the future. Technology moves quickly, and Rasmussen says Beaver River intends to keep up the pace moving forward.
“Our intent is for this to be a long-term solution,” she says. “The solutions for communities will keep advancing as technology advances for instance we are already moving to 100Mbs download speeds in the MLTC communities and recommend that for any new services. In order for this company to stay alive and thrive, it has to keep up with those changes. Our nine nations rely on us keeping up. This is no fly-by-night operation; this is a permanent solution for MLTC and any other nations or communities we provide service in.”