Terms like megabit and gigabit might go over some people’s heads, but the need for fast, reliable internet in Kahnawake is something nearly everyone understands.
“It puts people on the same level as on the outside,” said Wallace “Bully” Stacey, president of K Fiber Optic. The local company hopes that within weeks it will become the first provider of fibre optic internet in the community.
“I’ve been living here most of my life,” he said. “I’ve experienced it in many things. It’s hard to watch Netflix or a YouTube video without buffering.”
He and his partners noticed Kahnawa’kehró:non were having trouble studying and working from home when the pandemic hit due to slow or unreliable connections.
They set out to address this problem, founding their company in December 2020, but it’s a big task. “We’re going onto a year next month, and we still don’t have a customer yet,” said Stacey.
“There’s a lot of planning, engineering, and execution of work.”
It’s also expensive. The company has already raised over $1 million but does not anticipate profitability for another year or two.
The company, which has already struck an agreement with Bell to use the telephone poles, has to physically wire the areas and houses it will service with thick cables containing 288 individual strands of glass – the means by which data travels in a fibre optic network.
K Fiber Optic has also been busy constructing its headquarters on River Road out of insulated concrete form blocks. Soon enough, the facility will be full of equipment and open to the public.
For all aspects of the company’s infrastructure, supply chain issues have posed a challenge, with fibre, lashers, trucks, and labourers all hard to find.
If K Fiber Optic meets its objective to begin serving customers in a few weeks, it will be the only game in town – but not for long.
In July, First Nations Wireless, now First Nations Fiber, struck a $5-million deal with the government to assist it in developing its own network of more than 120 KM of fibre. The contract commits the company to offer fibre optic service by September 2022, but it could launch as soon as the first quarter of 2022, according to chief operations officer Kameron Lahache.
The company’s current wireless-based service cannot provide the 50-Mbps target for download speeds set by the CRTC, maxing out at around 40 Mbps. Fibre optics will change that – drastically.
“It’s going to be comparable to going from horse and buggy to being given keys to a Ferrari,” said Lahache.
First Nations Wireless hopes to expand into other Indigenous communities after rolling out its service in Kahnawake.
Lahache said the business is not worried about competition in Kahnawake because no matter who provides the service, Kahnawake will benefit.
“At the end of the day, our mission and our objective is to make sure that every single household within the community has access to fast, reliable gigabit internet service,” he said.
In the meantime, there is no doubt a demand for fibre optic internet services in the community.
“I’m looking forward to fibre personally because I like to watch a lot of live streams like Twitch and play games,” said Aidan Alfred, an IT technician at Tewatohnhi’saktha. With video games getting bigger and bigger, Kahnawake’s current internet options cannot keep up.
At work, the internet service now available has also been an issue. “We see things like (people) dropping in and out of virtual meetings or issues just accessing their work resources,” he said.
Tewatohnhi’saktha recently hosted a virtual economic summit, and reliable, high-speed internet access was a major hurdle, he said.
“The big deal of getting (high-quality internet) is your connectivity to the world in an efficient manner,” said Stacey.
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.