B.C.’s Minister of Citizen Services Jinny Sims was in Merritt last week to talk about continuing to improve Internet connectivity for the Lower Nicola Band (LNIB).

The provincial government is interested in ensuring better access to the Internet in rural and remote communities, and Sim’s ministry aims to work with communities and service providers on projects through matching grants procured from the federal government.

“There are many, many households that have absolutely [no Internet connection]. Affordability is an issue,” said Sims. “Nowadays we need fiber optic [Internet] the same way we needed our railways in the old days.”

The chief of the Lower Nicola Band (who recently changed his last name from Aaron Sam to Aaron Sumexheltza) said the meeting with Sims centred around installing a fiber optic network in Lower Nicola.

“We have fiber [optics] installed and we use it here at Lower Nicola Band’s administration building, but we would like to be able to move forward,” Sumexheltza said, adding that the band would like to see that Internet connection installed at the Lower Nicola Band School and in the homes of its residents.

Sims said fiber optic Internet connection is critical to economic growth.

“Today fiber optic is not just about the convenience of watching Netflix. It’s also about growing business and attracting new business,” said Sims.

Sumexheltza said the province is interested in supporting the band in this area.

“We don’t have anything concrete in terms of what we will be getting at this point, but we are committing to working with the government,” said Sumexheltza.

Sims said her ministry is asking areas like Merritt to develop regional plans, because they’ve got far better chances of receiving grant funding.

“When each community puts forward their own plan, the cost is very prohibitive, but if five or six communities get together then it becomes doable,” she said. “It’s the same amount of money, but it’s just bigger bang for our buck, and they’re [more] likely to get federal approval.”

Sims also visited the BC Services building toured Aspen Planers and NMV Lumber during her Merritt visit last week.