At the newly-constructed Tobacco Plains Administration and Health Building, internet levels barely support the basic needs of band employees. Basic modern business needs, such as video conference calls, are a challenge, while the service to homes is even slower and less consistent. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Tobacco Plains disconnected despite $2.9m internet project

Current internet levels barely support band members, basic business needs

A First Nations group is feeling disconnected despite a multimillion dollar high speed internet project underway in the South Country.

In March, the Province announced $1.4 million in grant funding for a Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC) project to install transport fiber between Jaffray and Roosville in South Country.

The South Country project involves more than 50 kilometres of fiber-optic infrastructure installed between Jaffray and Roosville at an estimated total cost of $2.9 million. CBBC hopes to activate their new fiber line by March 31, 2021.

(Look back: https://www.thefreepress.ca/news/jaffray-tobacco-plains-others-to-receive-high-speed-internet-upgrade)

However, the Tobacco Plains Indian Band says the project will require a large investment by the band before internet can reach homes in the community.

“While the Leadership of Tobacco Plains Indian Band supported the application and agree that the project is a good step in providing high-speed internet to the residents of Tobacco Plains and the residents of the South Country, the statements made omit the fact the scope of this project does not actually provide residents of Tobacco Plains, nor any other resident, with internet,” said the Chief and Council of the Tobacco Plains Indian Band in a statement.

“In fact, the project will require a large investment from the Tobacco Plains Indian Band to connect its citizens to this project in order to provide internet to homes in the community,” it continued.

The band is working to secure funding to complete the ‘last mile’ of the project in order to connect its community and said they truly hope similar efforts will be made on behalf of all South Country residents.

The Ministry of Citizens’ Services responded by saying that their project included the installation of transport fiber, which is a necessary first step when bringing high-speed internet to a rural community for the first time. They say this is required before final last mile connections can be made.

The Ministry further explained that there are several funding programs available to help support communities and service providers with project costs.

They added that in Budget 2019, the government announced a further $50 million investment in the Connecting British Columbia program, saying this will offer opportunities for remote and Indigenous communities to access funding for connectivity infrastructure planning, transport fiber and last mile projects.

In addition, they said another avenue for addressing last mile projects is to apply for funding through the All Nations Trust Company’s Pathways to Technology.

Housing and Infrastructure Department Manager for the Tobacco Plains Indian Band, Ryan Sarfeld, said the community is excited to see new investment in the South Country, which will allow them the opportunity to grow.

“The fiber project led by CBBC is a great start but we have a long journey still,” he said.

Sarfeld explained that the Tobacco Plains Indian Band is working with CBBC to ensure connection to their Administration and Health Building, and are also working diligently to connect all homes on Reserve.

At the newly-constructed Tobacco Plains Administration and Health Building, internet levels barely support the basic needs of band employees.

Basic modern business needs, such as video conference calls, are a challenge, while the service to homes is even slower and less consistent.

“We’re working to build a healthy, active community that can grow and prosper, and technology is a huge part of that,” said Sarfeld. “With fiber and the addition of new housing comes more business opportunities.”

“The previously released soundbite was very optimistic and hopefully it can be true,” said Sarfeld, adding that he hopes people will now have a better understanding the complexity of this project.

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