---Nothing Works

FTLComm - Wayakwin - October 7, 2000

trials sent
to test me

Most of the time this past week I have been feeling like "Job" it just seemed that no matter what I did or how hard I worked I was frustrated at every turn. But this whole experience was, not doubt, one of those trials sent to test me, or at least my ability to endure sustained disassociation with, what for me, is the real world.



La Ronge Monday

After a root canal and service call in Saskatoon on Monday I went into La Ronge Monday night with a load of pictures to share with you and experiences to write about but this was simply not to be. There are people in La Ronge who are able to access the Internet and maintain the kind of touch with the digital world that I am used to, but none of them are working at the Northern Lights School Division.




The problems that exist in La Ronge are hardly unique. As I have been looking into this problem it seems that throughout the periphery or frontier of Canada these conditions prevail and in so many ways are so completely insurmountable that most people do not have the will or ability to do anything about it. The Federal Government knew about this and in the best of good will and in the spirit of support and cooperation, set out to do something about the communication problem.



main concern
of the nation

When we began the last century there was an issue, it did not go away nor did will solve it but at the time the need to move goods across the country, both to provide support and transport to market the products of the country was the burning main concern of the nation. The CPR had been completed in 1885 and the second transcontinental line begun by the Grand Trunk was foundering. The Federal government realised how important it was to support the developing West and nationalised several railways to form CNR. From then on we saw the settlement of the parklands from Winnipeg to Edmonton and with it the maturing of a great land.




There is a remarkable similarity to the situation now as the new frontier is not in transportation (although that should still be a major concern) but in communication. Recognising that the telecommunication system in the southern portion of Canada was handling the massive accellerated use of that network to move data, the government set to work on a programme that should have worked. Industry Canada looked around at what was available and decided that the sparsely populated parts of the country could be connect using satellite technology.



Direct PC

They took a great initiative and begun the community access programme and provided satellite equipment and satellite space to use Direct PC. This method of communication relies upon using the hardware and software from a company called Direct PC. This technology was provided to Canada's more remote communities free but with very limited support to the receivers of the equipment. It involved the dish, a computer, and telephone modem to do the job. Here is how it works: With Direct PC the community base station goes on line by the computer making a telephone connection using a 56K telephone modem to a toll free number and establishes a connection. The request for a web page or e-mail, or whatever is sent along the phone line and the data is sent to that computer using the satellite downlink.



1/4 do not
work at

In theory this process should work, and in many places it does but a significant ratio, perhaps 1/4 do not work at all or the service is so marginal that it is simply a promise rather than reality. Here are some examples:

Thompson Manitoba - Mystery Lake School Division got the equipment
from Industry Canada then went to a Winnipeg computer company for support and with some tinkering they have a system that works just great.
Red Earth - Red Earth Education Authority. Obtained the equipment
from Industry Canada and attempted to use their support and the support from Direct PC to get their system going. Of the two systems (one for the elementary, one for the high school) only one works at all and only for the one computer while the elementary one has not worked in the year it has been on site.
La Ronge - Northern Lights School Division. Using a single system from
Industry Canada and some excellent wireless equipment they have attempted to use their own support staff to give Internet connections to their main office and three schools. There system, though bold and sophisticated has an operational reliability of less than 20% (that may be high) but is unable to upload, download or handle e-mail.
For Chipawian Alberta - Installed in this school the staff took a keen interest
in the project and with Industry Canada's donation and some artful looking around were able to achieve a fully function system using shareware.



Red Earth

I had worked with the problems at Red Earth and seen the frustration they had to deal with. They rely upon a radio connection for their telephone service even though they are only forty miles from Carrot River they are served by a limited number of telephone channels and no transmission on a modem ever gets above 28.8 and most connections are far below that level. This means that the single computer that uses the DirectPC link in the high school even has problems getting requests out. The elementary school was not installed by the people who delivered the equipment and only this month did we get a modem hooked to the computer handling DirectPC. Neither system can be networked without additional software.



Industry Canada

Initially Industry Canada entered the deal with Direct PC to provide a single Internet connect for a community library or school but of course the users wanted to expand that so that every computer on their network could make use of the satellite connection. In the La Ronge situation the many computers in their three schools and divisional office have to request their data through a telephone line and it is seriously overwhelmed causing the system to collapse. With their use of wireless equipment and servers they have piled complexity upon complexity to the point that reliability is a major source of humor.



little if
ever works

Though I had suspicions in the past that there was something odd about the system as my wife who works in the La Ronge system could never use any software or get an e-mail address to work. I thought perhaps she just had not been able to get through the details to make things work. I was wrong she had been doing her best and with a system like this little if anything ever works.



not a
functional situation

Each night I tried to get at least a single computer to work and be able to update Ensign and each night I crashed into wall after wall of non-performance. As I struggled onward I came to the firm conclusion that "Nothing Works" and it appears as though it is not a functional situation. In other words it will, as presently configured, it will never work.

Ensign's home office this morning.




Direct PC was taken over in Canada by Bell Express Vu and if you use one of their little dishes for your direct television you could obtain their equipment and you could get outstanding download speeds to your computer and your requests would go via telephone. Star Choice is planning to offer Internet service on their system using an American company who have, as yet, been unable to get their bird into orbit and for now they are vapour ware.



"real world"

I was unable to gain access to a telephone line to make my connection to the Ensign server and so for a week no updates and no connection, for me to my "real world". In this coming week I will be here at my desk sorting out my view of the world and happily in touch with my friends, the readers of Ensign.