Would-be broadband wireless network operator Inukshuk Internet Inc. has reaffirmed its commitment to interactive learning programs, even though some in Canada’s content community say they feel burned by past experiences with the entity. "As the ownership structure of Inukshuk got batted about, there was clearly some concern...about what the status of this was," says David Robinson, VP of at Rogers Wireless Inc. "We’ve been very clear about it: it’s an obligation as a licensee, we are absolutely totally committed to it." In October 1999, Montreal’s Microcell Telecommunications Inc., Milton ON’s Look Communications Inc. and ID Internet Direct LLC of Toronto teamed up to bid on licences to operate wireless broadband networks - known as multipoint communications systems, or MCSs - and created Inukshuk as a vehicle to focus their efforts. The consortium bid on all 13 regional licences Industry Canada had put up for auction at the time, and in March 2000 won all but one. The licence for the province of Saskatchewan went to incumbent telco SaskTel. However, those licences came with conditions attached. Industry Canada, which oversaw the MCS spectrum licensing process, mandated that successful applicants fund electronic learning programs, in keeping with the department’s Connecting Canadians initiative launched in 2002. Each of the 13 licence areas would have its own e-learning program or programs, reflecting its inherent cultural and educational priorities, and the process would allow third-party content and connectivity providers to submit proposals. After judging by educational committees in each licence area, the winning proposals would be funded and eventually delivered via the Inukshuk network. Through a series of takeovers and buyouts, Rogers has come to own a 50% interest in Inukshuk, with Bell having a major investment in the other equal partner (see sidebar on p. 6 for a summary of Inukshuk’s ownership changes). While the licences to operate the network have yet to be transferred from the former controlling firms of Inukshuk to Bell and Rogers Wireless, the two companies have set a target of 66.6% coverage by population in the next three years, with service to 40 cities as well as 50 communities in rural or remote parts of the country not currently served. The firms say they will invest an estimated $200 million over that timeframe. But at least one member of the new media content community says dealing with Inukshuk has left a sour taste in her mouth. Diane Williamson, president and executive producer of Cambridge ON-based Digital Wizards Inc., says Bell and Rogers have an obstacle to overcome in the past missteps associated with the Inukshuk name. "They shouldn’t rush to announce something unless they’re truly committed to it," she says. "They have to, in my opinion, reposition their credibility around the program." During Inukshuk’s call for submissions process in 2004, Digital Wizards put forward a bilingual project based on Confederation that incorporated a book, a CD-ROM and a web presence. The company applied for funding in both the Ontario and Alberta regions, thanks to a partner in the western province. "We had an extremely talented team on the content side, with excellent credentials, so we felt it was a strong proposal," Williamson says. However, after an initial round of favourable feedback encouraging her to develop the idea into a full proposal, she says she heard nothing more about her submission. "After really having to pester them we got sort of a form letter that obviously went to a number of people who had filled out proposals. One of my proposal partners got in touch and followed up on that form letter, and I think they got some sort of a polite response back, but there was never any announcement about whether anyone was successful." Out of the approximately 280 proposals last year, however, Robinson says winners for each licence region were identified in the summer, and the programs are already being delivered. Likewise, unsuccessful applicants were informed months ago of the educational committees’ decisions, he says. However, at press time the Inukshuk web site’s latest bulletins dealing with the e-learning program were those announcing the 2004 calls for submission in each of the 13 areas. Robinson adds that the 2005 call for submissions process was just launched last week, and the Inukshuk web site will soon be updated to include that information as well as details of last year’s winners. While he admits the continuity of such projects suffered as Inukshuk’s owners came and went, Robinson offers assurances that the consortium’s new management will keep it on an even keel. "I think yes, it has perhaps had some element of unknown - I’d say those days of unknown are over," he says. "This should be a well-operated process, and I don’t think the community should be concerned anymore. There is very clearly an owner of it, and now two very large companies are committed to it equally."