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By Jennifer Kohlhammer, Founding member, Blackfoot Tech Council

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) target for internet speeds for all homes and businesses in Canada is 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads. 

The United Nations has deemed internet access a human right. In effect, it should be no problem to stream HD video or play multiplayer online games on multiple devices at the same time, or video call by Skype or FaceTime, like 90% of all Canadian homes and businesses can—yet, for much of Siksika Nation, these activities are an impossibility.

In 2020 when almost all in-person activities, such as school, moved to online platforms. Suddenly the need for increased capacity, increased tech and an increased role of IT and technology professionals came to the forefront. Enter the Blackfoot Tech Council, a newly formed organization with a mandate to develop, evolve and deliver tools that create opportunity for Siksika Nation. 

The Council’s first large scale project is to bring high-speed broadband internet to every single home, business, facility (and square-inch!) on Siksika Nation, and become one of Canada’s first, First Nation-owned and operated fiber-to-the-premises networks.

High-speed internet access is technically very complex, especially in rural communities, and depends on a number of factors. Unless a community is getting internet via satellite, it needs to have direct access to fiberoptic cable to supply its internet from a nearby Internet Exchange. For Siksika Nation, the nearest Exchange is located in Calgary, almost 100km away. Internet access can then be transported from a community’s core router to individual homes and businesses, either by wired connections like fiberoptic or DSL, or by wireless connections such as microwave radio links.

This kind of infrastructure is costly, and competitive. And while there are a number of internet options available on Siksika, most are not meaningfully invested in the current and future development of Siksika. A coordinated effort by Siksika for Siksika, reflective of deep community understanding, is essential for the creation of a healthy digital ecosystem that will allow Siksika to thrive. And that’s exactly what the Blackfoot Tech Council is doing. 

Once the project is complete, every single home, business and facility on Siksika Nation and in the surrounding area will have access to high-speed internet that is twice as fast as the CRTC’s target, and almost 7x faster than Siksika’s current average. But this isn’t the only focus of the group. The Blackfoot Tech Council is growing Siksika’s local technology sector, through training and mentorship. In partnership with Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a global leader for advancing the tech industry and its workforce, the Council is currently training 10 community members in advanced level Core Technology, Network, and Security skills, and 14 community members in IT Fundamentals. Eligible trainees will be offered paid practicum placements with Siksika Nation departments, to mentor alongside in-house tech experts and put their newfound skills to practice. The group is also exploring other ideas for apps, technology and training to create opportunities for the community and solve challenges. 

Blackfoot Tech Council Founding Members

With leadership from Tribal Manager and support from Siksika Nation Chief and Council, the Blackfoot Tech Council is moving forward to raise capital for the planned infrastructure upgrades. Currently awaiting approval of its application to the Government of Canada’s Universal Broadband Fund, part of Canada’s “High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy”, which proposes to focus on remote and rural, and Indigenous communities, the Council is confident that investors will throw their support behind this promising initiative. 

For more information about the Blackfoot Tech Council:

Originally published in Scovan’s IGNITE Vol. 3