Lessons from the Arctic Broadband Summit

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Ontario has innovation talent to tout all across the province – yet so often, technology can help or hinder the progress. Broadband access – the backbone that nearly every educator or researcher relies upon – is a continual challenge to scale, especially in remote regions. And as we see in the North, bridging the digital divide in order to advance innovation is not easy. To help address this issue, earlier this summer, I had the privilege to attend and speak in Barrow, Alaska at the Arctic Broadband Summit hosted by the Arctic Economic Circle. Many thanks to my research colleagues from York University Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage (MICH) and Summit organizers for graciously inviting me, and to Contact North for engaging ORION on matters at the heart of this Summit.

While there were several Summit highlights, here are the takeaways that bear significant consideration for ORION, helping inform our efforts to better serve our community.

Remote Broadband is Ontario’s Issue Too

Many might think that what happens in the North stays in the North. Or in other words, how could remote broadband be a matter that concerns those in southern urban regions? While distance may separate us, research knows no boundaries. That’s been my experience, as a researcher as well, and in my many encounters with Ontario’s top minds in my day-to-day work at ORION. In fact, researchers use the ORION connection to study ways to improve broadband access in the North, among many other topics common to First Nations and the Arctic, like climate change and mining.

What is amazing about our digital age is that we are able to connect to and learn from each other in a powerfully borderless way. So my question to you is, why shouldn’t the top researchers and innovators in Ontario concern themselves with the North?

Unlocking Northern Talent

Ontario researchers, educators and innovators want to connect to opportunities in the North, particularly in digital arts, gaming, and mining industries. There are many examples: Cisco’s Connected North is trying to run videoconferencing in Northern Canada. The Ontario Genomics Institute is involved with research in fisheries in Nunavut. Also, York University’s MICH looks at indigenous gaming in Inuit communities. I’ve also seen ample environmental and climate change applied research opportunities and I will also be joining a taskforce to help deliver mental health services across broadband to remote communities. All that to say, there is no shortage of interest in Northern Canada research partnerships.

Underneath it all, ORION connects many of these institutions in Ontario so that researchers and educators can lean on our network to conduct their important work, connect with their peers, and create greater impact.

Building Arctic Infrastructure

There were a lot of questions around building facilities and digital infrastructure in Northern Canada.

Should there be data centres built in the North? What are the benefits of having high-performance computing facilities in the North? Some of these questions are motivated by the desire to find solutions to the cost of expensive satellite connectivity – sometimes the only type of connection – and last mile provisioning. Currently, the Arctic Fibre Project, which ORION is very interested in learning from, aims to build a fibre-optic network, bringing connectivity to several Arctic nations.

While we collaboratively try to find a modern-day solution to bridge this digital divide, ORION’s mandate to support Ontario’s researchers, educators and innovators remains relevant. Whether it is research data transfer from a northern mine to a university or college for analysis, classroom-to-classroom videoconferencing or project collaboration between “the South” and Northern Canada, ORION is committed to reliably facilitating the advancement of this work. Because it’s not just the infrastructure ORION provides, but what’s happening over the network, which will move us forward in the innovation economy.

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Ontario’s digital frontier includes distance learning, which provides greater opportunities to remote communities across the province. Thanks to a partnership between Contact North | Contact Nord and ORION, students can access rich content from Ontario’s best universities and colleges.