Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic September 24, 2012 - 5:30 am

Telesat mounts Nunavut PR offensive to prove satellites still have a future

“The challenge is an economic one, not technical”

Telesat Canada's satellite earth station in Iqaluit. The company is mounting a PR offensive this week that's aimed at persuading people and governments that satellite telecommunications are capable of plugging northern Canada's enormous telecommunications gap. (FILE PHOTO)
Telesat Canada's satellite earth station in Iqaluit. The company is mounting a PR offensive this week that's aimed at persuading people and governments that satellite telecommunications are capable of plugging northern Canada's enormous telecommunications gap. (FILE PHOTO)

Telesat, Canada’s de facto monopoly satellite provider, says that in spite of its battered reputation, satellite-based telecoms still offer Nunavut residents the best choice for delivering internet, cell phone and other forms of electronic communication.

To promote that claim, Telesat will put on a series of demonstrations in Iqaluit this week aimed at convincing people that unused capacity on its current generation of satellites can fill northern Canada’s enormous telecommunications gap.

“We don’t have to build anything. The satellites exist today to do that. There is a perception that there is no capacity available in the North. That’s absolutely not true. The challenge is an economic one, not technical,” Paul Bush, Telesat Canada’s vice-president said in an interview.

To meet that economic challenge, Telesat is pitching governments for a new handout system that would make larger amounts of existing satellite bandwidth available to Arctic organizations, businesses and individual consumers.

That proposal was first unveiled this past February at the Northern Lights trade show in Ottawa.

That’s partly because the current Industry Canada subsidy regime, which supports schemes like the Nunavut Broadband Development Corp.’s Qiniq system, is set to expire between 2014 and 2016.

Telesat is now owned mostly by the U.S. firm Loral Space and Communications Inc. and by the Canada Public Sector Pension Investment Board.

Without federal government subsidies, many of Telesat’s customers, which include the SSI Group of Companies, the for-profit Yellowknife firm that runs the Qiniq network, run the risk of either losing revenues or being forced to increase consumer prices to unaffordable levels.

At the same time, Telesat faces a big new business threat: a proposal by a firm called Arctic Fibre Inc. that would link Europe and Asia with a high-speed undersea fibre optic cable to be laid through the Northwest Passage.

Such an undersea cable, which would be financed primarily by millions of telcom subscribers in Asia, would dramatically reduce the need for government subsidies if Nunavut customers were to hook up to it, the Arctic Fibre firm says.

Teleast plans to start their PR offensive with a show-and-tell session to be held 10:30 a.m. Sept. 24 at the Iqaluit library.

There, they’ll demonstrate internet speeds that Telesat claims will “match and exceed” speeds available in southern Canada.

They’ll also take their campaign to the Nunavut Trade Show in Iqaluit, where Telesat and Northwestel will demonstrate high-speed 3G cell phone service.

In another demonstration with Inuit Communications Systems Ltd., the business arm of the Inuit Broadcasting Corp., will feature webcasting

Telesat Canada, the monopoly supplier of Nunavut’s telecommunications backbone, is responding to widespread dissatisfaction with the current satellite-based telecommunications system.

That system has been under fire recently because of a series of interconnected events:

a big software screw-up with Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite on Oct. 6, 2011 that cut Nunavut off from the rest of the world, knocking out long distance telephone, cellular, internet, and automated banking services;

• the August 2011 release of the Arctic Communications Infrastructure Assessment report, which described the Arctic as a “telecommunications backwater;”

• a proposal by the Ontario-based firm Arctic Fibre Inc. to connect Europe and Asia through northern Canada with an undersea fibre optic cable, a plan that would let Nunavut telcom customers piggyback onto a system that requires few government subsidies.

• the impending loss of Industry Canada subsidies between 2014 and 2016.

Under its February 2012, plan, which it’s touting in Iqaluit this week, Telesat plans to put up $40 million of its own money — in the hope that governments will put up the remaining $120 million needed to pay for it.

Bush said Telesat used the ACIA report to calculate the precise shortfall that currently afflicts the Arctic.

“They did a fairly good job of that and came out, by adding all the communities together, with 1.5 Gigabits. It’s a shortage of 1.5 Gigabits,” Bush said.

To find that extra bandwidth, Bush proposes using 15 unused transponders on three satellites: the Anik F2, F3, and F1R.

Telesat would also throw in an extra $10 million for any necessary upgrades to its equipment on the ground, such as dishes and satellite modems.

“It’s really a public-private partnership where Telesat is putting up 25 per cent,” Bush said.

Telesat’s demonstrations follow a week in which telcom customers across the three territories were treated to yet another example of the Arctic’s vulnerability: a half-day glitch that knocked out internet and cell phone services.

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