Canada’s Arctic a “telecommunications backwater:” report

Operation Nanook 2009 suffered communications meltdown


Arctic Canada is a telecommunications backwater and without a federal strategy to increase bandwidth and reduce costs, the North risks falling even further behind.

That’s the conclusion of a study called the Arctic Communications Infrastructure Assessment, compiled on behalf of a working group of public safety officials.

“Canadians are becoming more reliant on communication services in every aspect of their lives, and the Arctic is no exception,” the assessment says.

“Arctic residents must have reliable, affordable communications infrastructure to engage in 21st century opportunities—many
communities’ long term survival will depend on it.”

The Arctic communications scene is riddled by high prices, slow service, and gaps in service areas.

And governments haven’t figured out ways to promote the competition that could bring down costs.

The bandwidth situation is so bad that in Nunavut, the Department of Human Resources struggles to fully comply with recommendations from the Auditor General of Canada, because there isn’t enough bandwidth to run needed computer systems.

And the lack of bandwidth also means that Nunavut’s new high-tech drivers licenses take longer to be issued because the information can’t be sent over the internet.

The report says government workers in the communities have to send out memory sticks containing driver data on airplanes to Iqaluit so the licenses can be printed.

“We have a state-of-the-art vehicle pulled by a team of dogs,” said Kathleen Lausman, the deputy minister of Nunavut’s Department of Community and Government Services.

The study was originally commissioned after Operation Nanook in 2009, when an exercise involving hundreds of soldiers and government personnel overwhelmed Iqaluit’s telecommunications network.

That incident put northern communications on the radar for police, emergency responders and the military.

It’s also on the agenda for a meeting of first responders that was to take place in Iqaluit Aug. 30.

“Communication infrastructure in the Arctic is fragile, creating a high level of vulnerability that can jeopardize the safety and security of Canadian citizens,” the report states.

“Information is key for responders to be prepared. Early identification of requirements for emergency services is important to avoid 11th hour problems accessing services.”

Even though the military has its own communications networks, other first responders still have to rely on local systems to run their own communications equipment.

The report calls for the creation of satellite “hotspots” that would allow officials to use internet, data and voice systems in remote communities during an emergency.

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