By Brittney Pastion of CFWE-FM
The Mamawapowin Technology Society, soon to be a registered non-profit, has announced plans to expand Wi-Fi coverage in a central Alberta community.
In Maskwacis, located 97 kilometers south of Edmonton, the current internet service is provided through Wi-Fi hot spots only, set up by society CEO Bruce Buffalo. The initiative began two years ago. Buffalo is self-taught in Wi-Fi network building, with an effort to work towards providing free access to all the homes within Maskwacis.
The big companies don’t provide the service on reserve, setting up cable or DSL, said Buffalo, “because there’s no money to be made from it.”
Buffalo was brought up separated from his community, growing up in the foster care system. After returning home on Samson First Nation, the challenge of internet accessibility became evident and he realized that something needed to be done.
Right now, the limited internet service is accessed for free by those within range of the hot spots. Ultimately, the goal is to establish a network to create connectivity across the community.
It’s a great tool for the nation without the need for new infrastructure, said Buffalo. The goal is to provide a network for community members who already own devices in order to make them useful.
The group has teamed up with Maskwacis Cultural College and partners, including a variety of Alberta post-secondary institutes which has provided funds.
But, Buffalo is looking for other funding to keep the project running and expand. So far he has been using his own financial resources and working on the project as a volunteer.
He believes bridging the digital divide is an important step towards creating a brighter future for First Nations across the country. He has presented his work at various events and is in favor of including other interested Indigenous communities.
A template that can be provided to other nations is in the works and training workshops will be made available if the interest is there.
The end goal is to provide sustainable connectivity and access to rural and First Nation communities nation-wide. But for right now, Buffalo is working towards free internet access for his community.
"We're going to light up the townsite and then we're going to build an incubation centre," said Buffalo, excited to introduce a future space for his community to learn more about his work.