Nunavut needs federal broadband internet funding, says senator
“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”
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson says the federal government needs to move more quickly to allocate money to the territory from its Broadband Fund.
“Today, 18 months after the 2019 budget approved over $1 billion in much-needed broadband funding, the federal government has not acted on multiple calls for targeted investments that would ensure Nunavut homes continue to have access to the internet at fair prices,” Patterson told the Senate on Wednesday, Oct. 28.
“Federal subsidies ran out months ago” for an internet provider that “serves 67 per cent of Nunavut’s households outside of Iqaluit,” said Patterson, apparently referring to SSi Canada, the operator of Nunavut’s Qiniq and SSi Mobile networks.
SSi Canada has teamed up with the Qikiqtaaluk Corp. to make a pitch for the Broadband Fund to help pay for additional satellite capacity and to build gateway facilities in each community to prepare the way for the eventual arrival of fibre optic cables and low-orbit satellites.
“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,” said Patterson.
Another Nunavut internet provider, Xplornet, announced in August that it would retire one of its northern satellites later this year, and that some customers in Nunavut and Nunavik would be cut off as a result.
Internet services provided by Northwestel in Nunavut, meanwhile, continue to face periodic disruptions due to rain and fog, “regularly cutting the territory off from the rest of the country and interrupting business, education and health, including as recently as last Friday for a full day,” said Patterson.
He asked what the federal government is doing “to protect the access of Nunavummiut to reliable and reasonably priced internet to ensure those currently connected in our 24 remote communities are not imminently disconnected?”
Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, replied that “the government is aware that there is much work to do.”
Gold said he had forwarded materials provided by Patterson to Navdeep Bains, the minister in charge of the fund, and “he assured me that he is looking at this very seriously to see how we can assist.”
Patterson said he didn’t understand why it’s an issue, since “there are resources available to respond immediately to urgent needs.”
In August of this year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced $72 million from the Broadband Fund for projects in the Northwest Territories, northern Manitoba and the Yukon. To date, no projects have been announced for Nunavut.
Internet issues raised in Nunavut’s legislature
Nunavut’s MLAs discussed the exchange in the Senate and the territory’s internet issues this week. In the legislature on Thursday, Oct. 29, John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove asked Lorne Kusugak, minister of community and government services, how much CRTC funding Nunavut has received for projects related to connectivity and broadband.
“It was unfortunate when the CRTC made those announcements that they didn’t include details for our department,” Kusugak said. He went on to say that he doesn’t have details of any available funding.
Main asked Kusugak what discussions he has had with Bains about Nunavut households not having access to internet as a result of Xplornet disabling a satellite and SSi Canada potentially losing funding.
Kusugak said he’s had brief telephone calls with Bains, and he looks forward to more discussion.
Technology has come a long way in a short time, Kusugak said, and it’s hard to keep up.
“I remember back when I was a kid my mom would write a note on the back of an empty cigarette pack and I would have to deliver it to my neighbour and wait for that message to come back and provide that service.
“It’s still faster to run across the street, unfortunately, at times like this,” he said.
Kusugak referred to ongoing work to run a fibre optic line from Nuuk to Iqaluit.
He also mentioned the possibility of Nunavut residents enjoying improved internet connections in the future thanks to low-earth-orbit satellites.
“There will be hundreds of low-earth-orbiting satellites that we will be able to access, that will be focused to Nunavut communities,” he said.
Kusugak said he intends to have conversations with providers of low-earth-orbit satellites in the coming months.