Due to funding woes, Nunavut internet provider faces “serious risk”

“Without immediate support we will be forced to take truly unwanted actions”

This radome at SSi Canada’s offices in Kanata, Ont., encloses one of the satellite dishes the company uses to run its Qiniq and SSi Mobile networks. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

SSi Canada, owner and operator of the Qiniq and SSi Mobile networks in Nunavut, said this week that because their last batch of federal subsidy money ran out in July, they’ll have to impose big price increases.

At the same time, SSi said that it has yet to get a response from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commision to a funding application they submitted in November 2019, in partnership with the Qikiqtaaluk Corp.

“With 67 per cent of Nunavut households outside of Iqaluit connected via Qiniq, the situation has become urgent,” SSi said in a news release.

That CRTC’s broadband fund makes $750 million available over five years to improve services in rural and remote regions. SSi says the funding they’ve applied for would extend and increase Qiniq’s service levels for another four years.

But without that subsidy, Qiniq will have to raise prices to survive.

“We won’t mince words; without a rapid response from those in charge, the price you currently pay for internet access will increase dramatically,” the company said in a notice to all customers issued earlier this week.

So SSi is asking its customers to send an urgent letter of support to three politicians: Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and economic development; Maryam Monsef, the minister of rural economic development; and Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.

To help customers do that, they’ve provided a sample draft letter on their website.

“Together, our voices will help ensure that the federal departments with the power to resolve this issue realize just how critically urgent it is,” their message to customers said.

Through Qiniq, SSi has offered satellite-based wireless internet access in every Nunavut community since 2005.

And after investing $75 million of its own money over three years, the company started the SSi Mobile smartphone service in 2018.

“We are truly sorry to share such terrible news, but we are out of time. We continue to work aggressively to find solutions for the thousands of households dependent on Qiniq service, but without immediate support we will be forced to take truly unwanted actions,” Jeff Philipp, SSi’s CEO, is quoted as saying in the news release.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson recently raised the issue in the Senate.

“The lack of new funding assistance means that thousands of households are at imminent risk of losing the internet or having to pay huge amounts,” Patterson said on Oct. 28.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Observation on

    Why would anyone go with Qiniq if they live in a community with Northwestel? For instance here in Cambridge Bay the performance is not remotely close nor is the pricing. I mean 399 + modem purchase for 55GB of data at miserable speeds?
    Yes you have to buy home phone with Nwtel but its still only $175 for 150GB at nearly triple the speed. I have had both and run them side by side with both new and old Qiniq routers, the same speed test and comparing browsing or buffering speeds, it isn’t close.
    Businesses and residence are just handicapping themselves using Qiniq. I personally have had almost no downtime.
    Ontop of the above. Bell’s cellphone 4G unlimited data plan is only 75 dollars a month with unlimited nationwide calling. This gets you 20gb of data at fast rates and any data beyond that at 512kbs. Why on earth would you pay for a 20GB Qiniq service while you can get better speeds wrapped into your sell phone plan / shared plan with family.
    The Qiniq service in many Nunavut areas just does not make sense from a consumer standpoint anymore. Businesses that cant compete die, simple as that.

  2. Posted by David Veniot on

    Observation, What you may not know is that Northwestel is able to offer the plans, rates and caps that they do because the feds contributed $49.9 million in broadband funding (Connect to Innovate program) to them a couple of years, with the specific requirement that they create a satellite backbone that would be made available to other providers at wholesale prices that allowed those other providers, like SSi, to compete fairly in the Nunavut market. Despite numerous efforts to gain fair access to that backbone, Northwestel has not complied and has used the money to undermine the competition. Had they done what they were supposed to, SSi-QINIQ would be competing head to head with them. Instead, we are in this situation and the Nunavut consumers do not have a choice of comparable competitive plans. SSi’s entire position here is to create a robust and competitive broadband marketplace.

    • Posted by Nathaniel Armour on

      Thanks for the clarification David.

      How come SSi didn’t get any of the funding, or capacity from the Government during the this program? Who were the key players in this? Did SSi not have any of these key players as a partner friend? Or is it that your proposal just wasn’t good?


      • Posted by David Veniot on

        Our proposal for the last round of federal funding (Connect to Innovate) advocated strongly for an open backbone and shared gateways in all communities, essentially the establishment of a regulated broadband utility that would give fair access to all providers. We called the concept the “Qimirluk” solution (means “backbone” in Inuktitut) and you can read all about it at http://www.qimirluk.com. We had the written support of dozens of Nunavut businesses, Inuit organizations, municipalities and anchor institutions. We were never given an explanation for why we did not get the funding, but we were encouraged by the fact that when the feds awarded the funding to Northwestel, it was based on a mandate of an open backbone and shared gateways – a mandate that Northwestel has not complied with. Northwestel is not interested in fair competition.

        • Posted by Nathaniel Armour on

          Guess you guys didn’t have the Government support. Either Federal or Territorial from what you are saying…..which is unfortunate…how many Nunavut employees will lose their jobs over this?

      • Posted by Tony Demerah on

        What is missing here is the fact that Qiniq had received prior years funding for there network,. Search around enough and you’ll find articles on this. I had qiniq since it started and they made some improvements but relied on that funding, once they lost it they threw the hat in. They had the ability for many years prior to launch there cell phone service but only did so after losing there funding in a race to connect all communities first. I don’t see the need for the qiniq network anymore and have only heard all this complaining since Starlink started testing and getting approval in Canada, humm.

    • Posted by Pot calling the kettle black on

      In 2015 SSIMicro received $35 million from the Federal Government when it threatened to stop serving 10 NWT communities. Let’s also not forget that SSI also received $10 million in 2004 to set up Qiniq. SSI moved to Kanata, just outside of Ottawa, but still claims to be a northern company. The real winner in these northern broadband subsidies is always Telesat, as the majority (80%) of always subsidies flow to them, no matter which ISP wins the subsidy lottery.

      • Posted by David Veniot on

        Slight correction Pot, SSi did receive $35 million in 2015 for Nunavut broadband, nothing to do with NWT. And yes, that $35M was entirely for satellite capacity, and on top of that SSi invested $40M of it’s own money in infrastructure and network upgrades to bring 4G-LTE to Nunavut for the first time. SSi did service most communities in the NWT for a number of years, but when the federal subsidy was transferred to Northwestel in 2012, SSi had no choice but to gradually discontinue service. The 10 NWT communities you refer to were, sadly, the last to be shut down after a number of appeals for government support.
        Regarding the $10M received in 2004 to set up the Qiniq network, this was the result of a highly competitive RFP bid, which SSi matched with its own investment. Without it, Qiniq would never have been built and most communities would not have had internet until recently.
        Regarding SSi’s office in Kanata, this is the location of our southern teleport where all satellite signals are received and connected to worldwide fibre. It is our network operations facility located in Canada’s high-tech centre. Our head office is in Yellowknife.

  3. Posted by Insider on

    To everyone, ssi and northwestel are a monopoly on the inside, Internet service has become an essential service in the Canadian Arctic , without it , every person nowadays would be lost without it, sad but true , life isn’t the same anymore with the World Wide Web within every community.
    Time to ditch that ssi modem soon !

    • Posted by David Veniot on

      Insider, you are right. Starlink is an amazing technology that will revolutionize broadband access – truly “fibre in the sky”. Great for anyone with a full time job, bank account & credit card. Those folks will be well served. Unfortunately, the reality is most QINIQ customers are not so fortunate and simply won’t have the means to be approved for or be able to afford a Starlink terminal. And it is our understanding that Starlink will not be available for another 12-18 months. But it is coming and it will be awesome!

  4. Posted by It’s called a hotspot on

    I have the ultimate cure for Qiniq/SSI and they’re ridiculously slow and overpriced internet packages.Take your modem along with a hammer and smash that thing into little pieces.
    Now get yourself a unlimited data cell package with Bell and hotspot to any external devices you need internet for. Even at throttled speeds it is faster then Qiniq on its best days.

  5. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Judging by the comments this little piece of SSI-QINIQ propaganda did not go as planned. I envision a future where Adam Smith’s invisible hand sweeps SSI-QINIQ from the Nunavut marketplace.

  6. Posted by Bill Neish on

    Everyone has an opinion but it is good to see David’s posts. Someone who knows what he is talking about. I’ve heard for years that NWTel does not play fair which is likely the same for almost every company when competition is involved. I’ve switched back and forth between different providers including explorenet. At the end of the day I go with what I think is the best value for my dollar which right now is NWTel, even though I know they are not being fair with the competition. I do hope the government steps in and regulates the “backbone” to make it more fair.

  7. Posted by Denuit on

    How many years have these guys been ripping Inuit off with there prices? How many GB have Inuit purchased through the years? Where does all that money go? Shitty service for so many years and tons of funding from the government to upgrade and improve service which was barely noticeable. I cannot believe Inuit are still using Qiniq to this day. Bell service is finally here and is a major upgrade. Hopefully starlink will be available in my area ??.

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