CRTC wants to hear from northerners about Northwestel

National watchdog launches major review of telecom services in the North

A Northwestel satellite dish in Iqaluit. The CRTC wants to know what northern residents think about the company’s services throughout the North. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

Canada’s telecommunications watchdog wants to know what northerners think about their internet, wireless and phone services, especially those services offered by Northwestel.

It’s part of a big review of Northwestel and the state of telecommunications in Canada’s North that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission launched on Nov. 2.

“We want to know more about how the telecommunications needs of Canadians living in the areas served by Northwestel are being met to ensure that all Canadians have access to high-quality telecommunication services,” the CRTC said in its online pitch to northern residents.

To participate in the survey, you can go to this webpage to find information on how to send your comments via fax, mail or through an online comment form.

If you choose to use their online form, you have to agree to a privacy statement, and you have to identify yourself—you cannot submit comments anonymously.

(After it was launched earlier this month, the online form was temporarily hampered by a glitch that prevented it from loading. That problem is now fixed.)

Also, the CRTC says you should keep in mind all submissions they receive will be made public.

Specifically, the CRTC wants to hear about your experiences with internet, wireless and telephone services.

And if you are a customer of Northwestel, the CRTC wants to know if you think Northwestel’s service is accessible, affordable and reliable.

The survey covers everyone who lives within Northwestel’s operating territory: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and parts of northern British Columbia and northern Alberta.

One reason for the larger review of Northwestel is the company is losing access to a special fund that has subsidized its local landline telephone services in the North for more than 20 years.

That high-cost serving area fund is created with money contributed by the telecommunications industry in Canada—but as of Dec. 21, 2021, it will be eliminated.

This will likely hurt Northwestel financially—in almost all communities, it costs the company more to offer landline telephone service than the service produces in revenues, the CRTC says.

So the CRTC wants to study whether the company should be compensated for that loss, and if so, how it should be compensated, and who pays.

Another reason is that the COVID-19 pandemic—which forced many workers and students to stay home—has exposed the weaknesses in northern Canada’s broadband services.

Retail satellite internet

Another question they’ll look at is of crucial importance to Nunavut and remote communities in the N.W.T. and Yukon: retail satellite internet services.

Right now, the CRTC does not regulate the satellite-based internet services that Northwestel offers in Nunavut. That’s partly because Northwestel faces a competitor in that market: SSi Canada’s Qiniq services.

But that could change, the CRTC said.

“Accordingly, the commission will consider in the current proceeding the market for satellite retail Internet access services, and whether there may be a need to regulate that market in Northwestel’s operating territory,” the CRTC said.

That’s partly because of technological change, such as the potential arrival of low-earth-orbit, or “LEO,” satellites, the CRTC said.

The CRTC will also look at the state of competition in the North, and what can be done to foster more competition.

That includes the contentious question of how competitors can buy wholesale access on networks that Northwestel controls, so they can offer retail services that compete with Northwestel.

That’s a big issue right now across all of Canada, where small upstart competitors like TekSavvy and Comwave Canada have been battling the big three telecommunications companies for wholesale access to their built networks at reasonable rates.

And Nunavut is no exception. SSi Canada and Northwestel are still mired in a dispute over wholesale access to Northwestel’s new satellite network, which was built with the help of a $49.9-million contribution from the federal government.

Northwestel is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bell Canada Enterprises, but the CRTC regulates Northwestel separately from Bell Canada.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Andre airut on

    Nobody gonna hear Nunavutmit, this is fake. They just want to pretend they wanna help cause of that billion dallor, now their saying they wanna hear when they never even want to hear from you idiots.

    • Posted by Little guy on


  2. Posted by Eskimo on

    What waste of time. As if anything will change. Nunavut won’t improve internet unless its fibre optic or with starlink, if it will work in Nunavut.

  3. Posted by Luvsgood on

    The internet service offered by Northwestel is very expensive and unreliable. It is very frustrating to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic with such a poor unreliable service. Hopefully this survey will make the market a little more competitive as allow other telecommunications companies to come to the North and make the market more competitive.

  4. Posted by webnut on

    Dear CRTC,
    Support for Northwestel, ssiMicro and TeleSat is needed for another year or so. They were good and they were necessary in their time.
    The other thing that is needed is to provide an operating lcense for StarLink. Starlink will offer high speed service everywhere in Nunavut, not just in the 25 communities.

  5. Posted by “Fair Competition” on

    I believe most of Nunavut residents want fair competition but its hard to believe in fair competition for consumers when all retailers, contractors, businesses appear to be competing to make the most money the shortest amount of time.

    Stores in most communities don’t price match for the customers, they price match to make as much money as other stores. A few communities have gotten better but still way over priced. In Rankin Inlet, the Northern Store is surprisingly the best place to shop for the lowest prices. EPLS was the place to go when it first opened but very quickly became about money making for the store. Not the fault of the owners, it’s the managers. When their store first opened, I seen a manager scan an item, look at the screen and say “that price can’t be the right price, it’s too low” and they went to check the price on the shelf. Current managers are very quick to make prices higher when they find out another store has the same product and is priced higher. I’ve been around the Kivalliq and Rankin Inlet tends to be the most expensive, which does not make sense. Most freight is sent to Rankin and forwarded to other communities. As many stores as Rankin has, there is absolutely not competition to lower prices.

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