Communications technology in Newfoundland and Labrador

Holy Heart of Mary High
St. John's, Newfoundland

By ShiNung Ching (Grade 11)

A friend from the mainland once asked me, "What kind of communications' networks do you guys have over there in Newfoundland?" The residents and businesses of Newfoundland currently have access to some of the finest communications technology in the world. Students at Memorial University of Newfoundland use a computer network that is acknowledged as the fastest in North America. The blueprints for this network have been archived in the Smithsonian Institution for being the first of its kind. Now, Newfoundland's major Cable Television provider, Cable Atlantic, is set to offer high-speed data communication to all of Newfoundland through a fiber-optic network that is the envy of the world.

When one talks of communication technology these days, the single most common word heard is "speed". Why is speed such an important factor? The answer is clear: nobody likes waiting. In the information age, data must get from point A to point B as fast as possible. Right now, the quickest way to do this is through fibre optics. Fibre optics is also the most reliable way to transfer data. Simply stated, fibre optics works by "shooting" light through a thin fibre. Since light travels very fast and does not weaken in strength over vast distances, fibre optic networks are preferred for data communication. Cable Atlantic has recently laid an advanced fibre optic network, capable of delivering high-speed communication to residents of the St. John's and Mount Pearl areas of the Avalon Peninsula. The development of this network is a huge achievement for Cable Atlantic.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ken Marshall, an executive at Cable Atlantic, regarding this high-speed network and what it will do for residents of this province. Mr. Marshall stated that the fibre optic network in and around St. John's is unique as it is one of the only networks capable of delivering a full range of communications' services to such a large area. One of the main uses of the network will be to provide high-speed Internet through the new RoadRunner Service, Cable Atlantic's joint venture with Time Warner Inc. RoadRunner, which made its debut on December 15th, uses fibre optic technology combined with standard coaxial cable to provide fast Internet access to homes and businesses through an advanced cable modem. This device is similar to a standard telephone modem, except, instead of connecting to a phone line, it connects to a coaxial (television) cable. This allows far greater amounts of data to be sent at much higher transfer rates. Cable Atlantic is the first Canadian firm to launch RoadRunner which, in addition to providing high-speed Internet access, will also provide access to specially designed sites by Time Warner, the world,s largest media content provider. According to Mr. Marshall, one of the big reasons that Time Warner chose St. John's was because of the high capability of Cable Atlantic's network. Many of Canada's biggest cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, are still without cable modem access. The St. John's area network is also being internationally recognized, with engineers coming from around the world to study its design.

In addition to RoadRunner, Cable Atlantic is providing a number of resources to various institutions around the St. John's area. Through Cable Atlantic's fibre optic network, Newfoundland hospitals are able to access patient information up to 34700% faster than on conventional telephone lines. In the education sector, Cable Atlantic is a partner in the STELLAR Schools project, which provides free, high-speed Internet access to various schools in the St. John's area. The school that I currently attend is a designated STELLAR school. With our access to high-speed Internet, we are able to utilize our computers in a number of ways that would otherwise not be possible. For example, students are able to access information for research papers and science fair topics, among other things.

As for future goals, Mr. Marshall says that the "possibilities are limitless". Currently, Cable Atlantic is developing advanced networks for Gander, Grand Falls, and Corner Brook. In the future, they hope to engineer a fibre optic network that will span the entire island.

When it comes to communications, networks, Newfoundland and Labrador is certainly on the leading edge. We have some of the most advanced systems in the world. In addition to Cable Atlantic, there are many companies that are experimenting with brand new communications' technology that may be marketed in the future. In terms of traditional Internet service providers, Newfoundland has some of the largest in North America. To answer my friend's question directly: communications, technology in Newfoundland and Labrador "rocks"!

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