New communication tools for Nunavut
The Nunavut Implementation Commission is recommending a new set of long-distance communication tools for all Nunavut residents. They’re called “Community TeleService Centres.”
If anyone anywhere needs better long distance communication tools, it’s the people of Nunavut.
That’s why the Nunavut Implementation Commission has devoted two supplementary reports, and lengthy sections of their two Footprints reports, on how to get a better telecommunications system for Nunavut.
The people of Nunavut have always wanted a decentralized government.
To make a decentralized Nunavut government work, Nunavut needs a state-of-the-art telecommunications system.
The commission also knows that Nunavut residents need access to the new electronic technologies that are changing the way people work and communicate all over the world.
To help Nunavut residents do that, the NIC has come up with a new idea: the creation of what they call “Community TeleService Centres.”
What’s a teleservice centre?
A teleservice centre is a place in a community where all residents have free or low-cost access to electronic communication equipment – fax machines, scanners, OCR readers, computers and modems, and videoconference equipment.
Under the NIC’s proposal, each teleservice center would have paid staff to maintain the equipment and help people learn how to use it. And each center would likely be large enough to accomodate large community videoconferences.
In two supplementary reports – one published in 1995, and the other in 1996 – the commission describes in detail what Nunavut’s community teleservice centres might look like.
Community decides what it wants
Randy Ames, an NIC researcher who helped put together the NIC’s work on teleservice centres, says the only way the centres can work in Nunavut is if community residents play a central role in setting them up.
“It won’t work if you impose a teleservice centre on a community and say, ‘Here, go and use it,’ ” Ames says. “The community has to decide what it needs… and each community could do it a little differently.”
Regardless of how communities might choose to use community teleservice centres, Ames says the new opportunities they would create for Nunavut residents are “endless.”
That’s because many of the barriers created by Nunavut’s physical isolation from the rest of world would be eliminated, as well as the geographical barriers that separate Nunavut residents from one another.
“Nunavut could go toe-to-toe with the rest of the world,” Ames says.
He explained that, until now, electronic communications have mostly flowed in one direction – into Nunavut from the South.
But if a new broadband telecommunications system is created for Nunavut, Nunavut residents would be able to send information in the opposite direction.
For example, Ames said, an elder in Pond Inlet could be paid to give a lecture in Inuktitut to a university class in the South.
And Nunavut residents would also gain a new way of talking to each other face-to-face over long-distances, especially if videoconferencing became available to all residents.
Piggy-back on government system
Ames also says that the cost of putting 26 teleservice centres into each of Nunavut’s 26 communities needn’t add up to astronomical sums of money.
That’s because, in the NIC’s opinion, Nunavut’s decentralized government must have a new telecommunications system anyway.
And they also say that most of the infrastructure needed to create an internal Nunavut government communications network could be shared among community teleservice centres and other users.
“The commission has tried to attempt to piggy-back the teleservice centers on an infrastructure that would be created for the Nunavut government,” Ames says.
That infrastructure – most of which will be a system of satellite earth stations linked to users in each community by either coaxial cable, fibre optic wire, or radio waves – is expected to be built by new private company called Ardicom.
Ardicom is made up of three northern firms: NorthwesTel, Arctic Co-operatives Limited, and an aboriginal company called Nasco. Nasco is owned by the Nunasi Corporation, the Inuvialuit Development Corporation, the Denendeh Development Corporation, and a development corporation representing Yukon Indians.
Right now, Ardicom is in the middle of negotiations with the GNWT on a contract to build a high-speed communications network across the NWT by March of 1999.
The new Nunavut territory will likely inherit a share of that contract after April 1, 1999.
Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth
For new communications technologies to work properly, users must have access to a transmission system that’s powerful enough.
The term used to describe that telecommunications carrying power is “bandwidth.”
Under its contract with the GNWT, Ardicom is expected to set up a system that transmits data within a bandwidth of 384 kbps ( 384 kilobits per second).
That means the network of satellite receivers and transponders they’ll set up will be able to send or receive 384,000 pieces of electronic data every second – the minimum that’s needed for “business quality” videoconferencing and telemedicine.
But the NIC points out that Nunavut will soon need even more bandwith than that.
They recommend that the new system should be built so that it can be easily upgraded to a bandwidth of 1.54 Mbps (1.54 megabits per second) – also known as T1 speed.
A T1 system is able to transmit 1, 540,000 pieces of electronic data every second – allowing for “full motion” videoconferencing, and even more efficient transmission of other kinds of data.
The NIC says a 384 kbps telecomunications system for Nunavut that includes community teleservice centres could be run for about $7.4 million a year, and a similar system at T1 speeds would cost about $10.3 million a year.
And the one-time start-up costs for basic infrastructure – which the private sector will likely pay for – are about $2.6 million for a 384 kbps system, and about $3.6 million for a T1 system, the NIC says
End of the travel culture?
Although that sounds like a lot of money, the NIC points out that territorial governments could save a lot of money in travel costs.
For example, they say that in 1992-93, the GNWT spent a whopping $70 million on travel by government officials – about $35 million of which was related to Nunavut.
“You’ve got to spend money to save money sometimes,” Ames says, saying that Nunavut’s bureaucrats and politicians would rarely have to travel if they could talk to each other through an efficient videoconferencing system.
And if community teleservice centres were large enough to accomodate community meetings, MLAs and other elected leaders could hold long-distance with their constituents whenever they wanted, Ames said.
In its reports, the NIC also says this could bring an end to northern Canada’s “travel culture” – a way of life adopted by the political and bureacratic elite in which free travel is seen as an unwritten job perk.
It’s also a trend that northern airlines and hotels may not like either, the NIC says, since both industries now make a lot of money from travelling politicians and bureaucrats.
But Ames says all that will likely be offset by the new economic benefits that better telecommunications and a system of community teleservice centres would bring about.
Direct producers of goods and services – such as carvers, seamstresses, and community-based guides and outfitters – have the most to gain, Ames says.
For example, he says carvers would be able to deal directly with customers in southern Canada and the United States instead of having to rely on art dealers and other middle-men.
Or local guides, outfitters and hotels would have the power to advertise directly on the Internet – which means they won’t have to worry about being included in expensive travel brochures produced for the government by graphic arts companies.
“The southern customer could deal directly with the hotel without having to go through a travel agent,” Ames says.
Electronic democracy, one-stop kiosks
Another area where teleservice centres would save money is in territorial elections, plebiscites and opinion surveys, Ames says.
In the NIC reports, they recommend that electronic voting equipment be set up in community teleservice centres to allow people to vote in municipal and territorial elections.
The NIC also says the same equipment could be used for opinion surveys.
And they also recommend that the territorial and federal government join forces and set up electronic “kiosks” within the teleservice centres.
These are electronic booths where people could get information about unemployment insurance, old age pensions, social assistance, and many other government programs.
These kinds of kiosks are already being installed by Human Resources Canada in southern employment centres.
Will we ever get them?
As to whether or not the three parties to the Nunavut Accord – Nunavut Tunngavik, the GNWT, and the federal government – will ever support community teleservice centres, it’s still too early to tell, Ames says.
So far, the GNWT has not said that these teleservice centres will be part of the contract they’re negotiating with Ardicom.
And the federal government has not accepted the cost of teleservice centres as one of the “reasonable incremental costs” of establishing Nunavut, Ames says.