Nunavut, Nunavik internet providers hope to tap Ottawa’s new broadband fund
The $150-million Rapid Response Stream fund aims to boost capacity for applicants by November 2021
Northern internet service providers say they welcome the federal government’s latest financial boost toward high-speed internet in the North.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched his government’s $1.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund, money previously earmarked in his government’s 2019 budget.
The fund aims to connect 98 per cent of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026.
But that funding and connectivity can’t come fast enough for satellite-dependent providers in Nunavik and Nunavut who say they’ve almost maxed out capacity, while access to a high-speed network has become more pressing than ever in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Providers in Nunavut and Nunavik say they are looking specifically for help from a $150-million Rapid Response Stream fund dedicated to boosting capacity as quickly as possible—in this case, by November 2021.
In Nunavik, the Kativik Regional Government said its Tamaani Internet intends to seek the maximum amount of $5 million from the fund to put toward increased internet capacity in the region.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant increase in the use of the limited capacity of internet connectivity in Nunavik,” the KRG said in a news release on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
“This week’s announcement represents an important step towards responding to the increased internet usage in the region due to the pandemic. It will also contribute to our unflinching commitment towards improving our telecommunication services in all Nunavik communities as soon as possible.”
SSi Canada, which owns and operates the Qiniq and SSi Mobile networks in Nunavut, said it is also in urgent need of support to extend its services levels. SSi hopes to apply to the $150-million Rapid Response Stream fund for short-term support.
In the longer term, the federal government has also committed $600 million to secure capacity on Telesat’s Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, although Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said that service isn’t expected to be available in Canada’s Far North until 2022.
“Next-generation LEO technology is expected to provide the only economical way, in comparison to other technologies, such as fibre, to supply 50/10 Mbps broadband connectivity to the hardest-to-reach rural and remote communities (and the North) in the next several years,” the department said in a Nov. 10 email to Nunatsiaq News.
The internet speed the department noted refers to a standard the CRTC set in 2016, when the commission said that all Canadians should have access to broadband internet speeds of at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.
Currently, only about 40 per cent of rural households have access to those speeds.
The full $1.75 billion made available through the Universal Broadband Fund will support a wide range of types of infrastructure, including fibre optic, satellite, antenna, and backbone and last mile connections.