This week, I attended a gathering of information technology types from Yukon College and private industry, hosted by Inukshuk Wireless.
Inukshuk Wireless is a joint venture of Bell Canada and Rogers Communications.
Operating under a license from Industry Canada, Inukshuk has built and manages a cross-Canada broadband wireless network.
The network currently serves 45 cities and 120 rural communities across Canada—though, ironically, none of them are in either NWT or Nunavut, where Inukshuks actually come from.
Inushuk is using a wireless frequency band previously set aside by the Canadian government for use by educational institutions.
As part of the deal with Industry Canada for this privilege, Inukshuk has undertaken to invest in what it calls the Inukshuk Wireless Learning Plan.
The plan, basically, is a fund to help develop broadband education services in Canada — either through establishing wireless connectivity in unserved or under-served areas, or through (as their website at inukshuk.ca puts it) “the development of multimedia-rich learning content that allow learners across the country to embrace on-line learning.”
Each service area is budgeted a certain amount of money for each year to help local non-profit groups meet those ends of connectivity or content.
In the big areas, like Ontario, the budget can be as high as $2.5 million.
In little service areas, like the Yukon, the budget is more like $50,000 each year — with a little off the top for administration, so actually something in the area of $47,000.
Project proposals submitted to this fund are first screened by Inukshuk to make sure they meet the basic requirements of the Wireless Learning Plan, then forwarded to local, regional advisory boards, which then decide by majority vote whether they thing the proposal should be awarded funding or not.
In the year to come — since there have been times when no project money was approved in the Yukon region — the local fund probably has more like $95,000 in the kitty.
Not enough, I think, for any kind of serious connectivity effort, but enough to be interesting, I think, to a number of local cultural and educational agencies for content development projects.
Which is why I have taken the time to talk about this fund in these pages, in the first place.
As so often happens with initiatives like this, the fund is going under-utilized because it is under-promoted.
As near as I can tell, there are only two currently active Wireless Learning Plan projects under way in the Yukon, one with the Carcross Tagish First Nation, one with the Yukon Conservation Society.
Both are interesting projects, and might encourage other first nations and cultural or educational groups to put their thinking caps on about what they might do.
The Carcross Tagish First Nation project is a a web site called the “First Nations Tlingit Early Child Development Site.”
The idea is to voice-record, digitize and archive the Tlingit Inland Dictionary for online use, combining it with audio and visual content “for use in school curricula development, independent language study and other uses related to the Tlingit language.”
The Yukon Conservation Society’s project is called “Stories for Change : Promoting Nature Appreciation and Environmental Action through Online Learning.”
It is an effort to produce a “feature-rich online storybook for children in Grades 1 to 4.”
It will combine video, pictoral and audio resources to help children gain apprecaion both for technology (which most of ‘em love anyway, face it) and the natural world.
(I am drawing my quotations from the project descriptions found on the inukshuk.ca site mentioned above.)
I do not know what the budget for either of these projects is, but my experience at the Yukon Technology Innovation Centre tells me that projects of this ilk and scope generally fall into the $15,000 to $25,000 range.
In other words, if I heard my figures right, and as much as $97,000 may be on offer in the coming year, there could be room for four, maybe even five projects like this in the Yukon, soon.
Inukshuk’s call for expressions of interest is currently slated to happen as of January 12, 2009.
There is a four-page Expression of Interest form you can download and fill out.
In early march, the first cut will be made on the EOI’s, and the successful first-round applicants will then be invigted to submit a 10-page full-from application (also downloable from the Inukshuk site.)
These will be submitted to the local advisory board for assessment.
By September, Inushuk should be in a postion to sign contribution agreements with the selected applicants, who will then have 12 months (to September of the next year) to complete their projects.
Elegable appliants are generally educational or non-profit organizations interested in creating media-rich educational content.
It is possible for commercial companies to be eligable for consideration, though, if they have an established, meaningful agreement with a local non-profit organization.
The other proviso is that the project must either involve establishing new broadband connectivity where it is needed, or creating content that using exisiting broadband to deliver educational content.
As I said, the call for expressions of interest goes out January 12, 2009.
The forms and information you need can be found at www.inukshuk.ca.
There, I have done my bit to try to get this under-advertised program advertised.
What happens next is up to you guys.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie
who lives in Whitehorse.