Nunavik gets booted off the info highway
TNI, Nunavik’s’ communications organization, is now using temporary cell phones, and their connection to the Internet is now a dead link.
Telephones at Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. offices were silent until Wednesday this week, as Nunavik’s communications network scrambled to make a deal with Bell Canada to get their phone lines reconnected.
TNI board member Sandy Duncan says TNI owes about $180,000, charges run up by its fledging Internet service provider, Nunavik Net.
TNI’s foray into electronic communication was inaugurated with great fanfare less than a year ago.
Thousands sunk into project
The broadcast organization says they sunk $450,000 into the project over the past year. That includes donations of equipment and services from a variety of corporate donors, including $100,000 worth of computer equipment from IBM Canada.
They also used $200,000 given to them by the Makivik Corporation, Industry Canada and the government of Quebec to do a “technical and business plan… to address telecommunications needs in Nunavik.”
TNI hoped to finance their Internet service’s operations through attracting individual and business users throughout Nunavik.
But this expected support never materialized, and today, their Internet servers in Kuujjuaq, Salluit and Puvirnituq are closed.
A TNI press release issued Tuesday said their Internet pilot project “is now over, prematurely interrupted a few weeks prior to its scheduled conclusion.”
The press release said TNI intended to maintain the service until Aug. 20 in Salluit and until October 30 in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq.
TNI’s press release also says they’ll use the results of their planning study to make recommendations on building an “enhanced” telecommunications network in Nunavik.
Normand Pelletier, TNI’s director general, claims that TNI has always “respected” its contracts with Telesat Canada.
Michel Berdnikoff, Pelletier’s executive assistant, also tried to put a positive spin on the collapse of TNI’s Internet service.
Berdnikoff said the project was a valuable learning experience and that the planning study done by TNI will be a valuable tool for building a viable telecommunications network in Nunavik.
But neither Berdnikoff, Pelletier or a TNI press release able to explain why Bell Canada has disconnected TNI’s phone and fax lines, and how TNI managed to run up a $180,000 bill for telecommunications services.
He also said TNI is still trying to work out a deal with Bell Canada. Berdnikoff also suggested that Bell Canada is handling the situation in a heavy-handed “southern” manner that conflicts with the way Inuit do business.
However, one TNI board member, Sandy Duncan, an Inuk from Kuujjuaq who runs a local cable TV business, says he warned TNI of the project’s financial dangers a year ago.
Up the river with no paddle
“I tried to push the board not to go into it,” Duncan said. “I said, “You guys are going to be in big trouble. You’re not going to make money. Now, they’re up the river with no paddle.”
Duncan says he was worried right from the start about Nunavik Net’s projected financing.
But he says that Cathy Peloquin, a consultant from an Ottawa-based company called Unaaq that coordinated TNI’s Internet expansion, convinced the board that providing Internet services was a no-lose proposition.
Consultant went belly-up too
Unaaq, owned by Makivik Corporation and other Inuit birthright corporations, had worked on other projects including fundraising for the Spirit of the Arctic Exhibit in 1995.
Unaaq consultants traveled to Belize and even to Micronesia in search of lucrative consulting opportunities, but these projects did not generate expected revenues.
Unaaq was shut down recently leaving debts of $750,000 to Makivik Corporation and others.
A $15,000 a month roadway
The lines that Unaaq negotiated for Nunavik Net with Bell Canada and Telesat cost TNI a whopping $15,000 a month, $5,000 for each of the their three Internet servers.
“I told them not to jump in so fast. I said, “You can never make money,” says Duncan. “I knew that because in Salluit you have maybe 15 users, and even if all of them are paying $50 a month, that’s only $750 in total revenues.”
No support from Nunavik organizations
The expected support from Nunavik organizations like Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government, and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services never materialized.
On its own, with few paying users, Nunavik Net couldn’t survive.
So, when TNI’s board recently met in Dorval, members took the difficult, but unavoidable, decision to end the Internet experiment.
Not even a working telephone
The cutting of all telephone services to TNI’s offices last Friday in both the South and North, however, took the broadcaster completely by surprise.
TNI’s 14 hours of weekly Inuktitut-language radio broadcasts will continue normally however.
“The daily activities of radio, television and administration of TNI are not compromised,” Normand Pelletier said. “TNI is in business as usual and happy to be in business. We apologize for any inconveniene we may cause to our audience. We apologize to customers, and people who have access to our telecentres in Nunavik.”
On Wednesday of this week, a TNI employee told Nunatsiaq News that Bell Canada had disconnected their phone and fax lines “by mistake,” and that the organization is using “temporary” cell phones for now.