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This article was published 26/4/2019 (578 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A megaproject to hook up Manitoba First Nations to high-speed internet with fibre optic cable is set to begin this summer.

The laying of about 400 kilometres of fibre optic cable is for three northern First Nations, running off the "backbone" of Manitoba Hydro sites with high-speed internet.

The project, the ambition of which is to connect most of Manitoba’s more than 60 First Nations, has been delayed countless times, to the point where federal funding commitments are set to expire. Currently, there are 34 First Nations signed up to be part of the venture.

The first connection to three First Nations is expected to cost $8 million to $10 million, but sending fibre optic cable to all First Nations will cost several hundred million dollars.

The First Nations do not have the funding in place for the larger expansion.

"It’s a challenge because it’s so huge. It’s never been done before," said Lisa Clarke, CEO of Clear Sky Connections, a First Nation entity that is driving the project.

Funding for connectivity beyond the initial three First Nations is a question mark.

"We’re saying, ‘Let’s just get started.’ The board has given us that direction," Clarke said.

The three First Nations being connected are Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (Nelson House), Norway House Cree Nation and Pimicikamak (Cross Lake).

They are strategically located to be gateways to send fibre off to other northern First Nations. They also have the means to put up about $1 million each towards the cost, Clarke said.

Norway House Cree Nation Chief Marcel Moody said current internet service is "unpredictable and unreliable" and stymies economic development.

Northern First Nation communities mostly rely on satellite service, and there’s not enough bandwidth.

"Right now, you never know what kind of speed you’re getting, or else the internet goes down," Moody said. It’s difficult to use the new TVs, too, because they frequently buffer.

"I never thought internet service would be so essential to our daily lives. It’s so amazing how impacted we are by poor internet service," Moody said.

Moody was wary of making predictions, considering how often the project has been delayed, but said Nelson House could be connected by the end of the year.

Homes on First Nations are often spread well apart, increasing the cost of infrastructure. Moody said probably just the school, health station, band office and store would have fibre optic cable hookup, and the rest of the community would get internet service off a tower.

Clear Sky Connections will contract with Crown Pipeline Ltd., which does extensive work with Manitoba Hydro, to lay down the cable, Clarke said.