Keewaytinook Mobile (KM) is a community cell phone service. The history of KM goes back to the mid-2000s, when several KO First Nations, including Fort Severn, were discussing with KO/K-Net the possibility of developing a cell phone service in their communities. At that time, none of the First Nations communities in the region had a cell phone service.
Building a new cell phone service in a remote northern community is a large infrastructure project requiring public and private partners. KO began actively looking for opportunities. Major hurdles identified in the request for proposals included the remoteness of the communities, a limited population base, lack of access roads, and limited telecom and transport facilities.
Keewaytinook Mobile was introduced into Fort Severn in late 2009. Working with Fort Severn First Nation and Keewaytinook Okimakinak, the VideoCom research project studied and produced a research paper about KM in Fort Severn that can be accessed from the project website: http://meeting.knet.ca/mp19/mod/book/view.php?id=1722&chapterid=1362
The KM study found several common reasons why Fort Severn use cell phones. The most common is safety and security while outside the community. Being out on the land is central to the lives of Fort Severn residents; if they do not go out on the land themselves, a family member will do it for them, to trap, fish, hunt or harvest firewood. Land-based activities, especially when carried out far from the community, present potential challenges and dangers, such as running out of fuel or having a vehicle break down far from home, running into inclement weather and becoming dangerously cold, or having an accident. There is no emergency (911) service in Fort Severn but the cell phone can obviously be used to call someone for help.
Another common reason for using the KM service is the ease of reaching people without having to go around the community trying to track them down. Similarly, phone owners do not have to worry about missing calls. This is especially important for community members with jobs that require them to be reached easily. Also, having a cell phone is good for travelling outside the community to another community or urban location; with the cell people from Fort Severn are easily accessible wherever they are.
An increasing number of Fort Severn community members see cell phones as having an advantage over land lines. For community members without a home phone or who have difficulty paying the monthly phone bill for their home phone, the KM phone and service is practical and less worry. For some types of calls, the KM service is less expensive than using a home land line. In addition, some respondents like the pre-paid phone cards.
KM is community-based, and Fort Severn manages and operates the KM service locally, working with KO/K-Net and other communities on the KM network to ensure that the service benefits the community. From this perspective, KM in Fort Severn is an example of self-determination applied to telecommunications. KO/K-Net and Fort Severn see the KM service as a tool for increasing the community’s capacity for social, cultural and economic activities.
Keewaytinook Mobile can potentially contribute to economic development in several ways. KM is a community-owned service, with profits from the service staying in the community. Before KM was introduced in Fort Severn, the only option for phone service was land lines leased to Bell Canada. As community members make the switch from their existing Bell service to the new KM service, their spending on phone service will stay in the community and may even create local employment. KM can potentially support local business and traditional economic development by allowing more timely communications and fewer missed calls. KM could also contribute to economic development in Fort Severn is through community use of future services and applications that build on the mobile infrastructure.