Nunavut’s telecom network may face a meltdown from overuse, ISP warns

Northwestel did not need CRTC permission to double Nunavut bandwidth caps

Workers at SSi Micro’s teleport in Kanata, Ont., where the Nunavut-wide Qiniq network is managed. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

If you live in Nunavut and you’re stuck at home until who knows when, try not to hog the available internet bandwidth.

SSi Micro, operator of the Qiniq network that provides internet and mobile phone service to all 25 Nunavut communities, issued that advice last week, warning that from now on, the territory’s satellite telecom services could suffer crippling traffic jams that could hurt all users.

That’s because of the large numbers of people who have been told to stay put in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including children and youth who can’t go to school, and workers who have been asked to do their jobs from home.

“There’s only so much backbone available. It’s a finite amount. We are aggressively trying to bring in new capacity, but given the simple reality of the physics and math, there is only so much capacity available,” said Dean Proctor of SSi Micro, which provides internet and wireless mobile service to all 25 Nunavut communities.

He likens the situation to what’s called “the tragedy of the commons.”

That what happens when everyone rushes out at the same time to use a common good: the common good gets used up and everyone suffers.

And these surges in network usage aren’t unique to Nunavut. They’re occurring globally, especially in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, where many countries have been locked down for weeks, Proctor said.

So to soften the impact of increased residential internet use, SSi is calling for social solidarity and sharing, asking customers to voluntarily limit their internet data use, especially during peak daytime and early evening hours.

Northwestel did not need CRTC approval to double Nunavut usage caps

This follows a move by SSi’s competitor, Northwestel, to double usage limits for its customers in the four Nunavut communities that it serves with residential DSL internet: Iqaluit, Arviat, Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet.

Northwestel did not need CRTC approval for that change, which they say they made in consultation with the Government of Nunavut.

“In Nunavut, they’re not subject to rate regulation. They can do what they want,” Proctor said.

Northwestel does need CRTC approval for a parallel set of bandwidth increases they proposed for cable- and fibre-based services in communities in the Northwest Territories.

But in their first application to do that, Northwestel said the Nunavut bandwidth cap relief is “wholly contingent” on the CRTC approving an increased subsidy for them.

The CRTC didn’t like that and other preconditions. So they asked Northwestel to re-submit its application, with no strings attached.

And the new Nunavut bandwidth caps are already in place anyway.

Meanwhile, on March 23, the CRTC said yes to a second application and the Northwestel has now waived or increased usage caps in N.W.T. and Yukon communities.

As for Nunavut, the GN told its employees about the new caps in an emailed memo sent out last week, saying they estimate most GN workers at home will need about 20 gigabytes of data per month.

The change means users with a limit of 100 gigabytes of data per month—the most expensive Northwestel offering—have already seen that limit doubled to 200 gigabytes per month.

At the lowest end, light users in the four communities will see their limit of 45 gigabytes of data per month increased to 90.

Unlimited usage could backfire

But Proctor said that move may backfire—because it may end up creating more congestion, slowing the network down for all users.

“The whole idea of offering double the gigabytes or unlimited usage—that is basically a call for running out of capacity,” Proctor said.

“If you already have a congested highway and it’s rush hour, and you tell people we’re giving you a bunch of stuff for free, go out there and drive as fast you want on this congested highway, that’s not solving anything.”

The GN memo to employees lists Northwestel, Bell Mobility, Xplornet and Ice Wireless as, in each case, being one of the “four service providers in Nunavut.”

But the GN doesn’t mention Qiniq, which serves more than 6,000 households in 25 communities.

The GN did say Northwestel’s sister company, Bell Mobility, which offers a form of wireless internet in all communities, including the 21 communities not served by Northwestel’s residential DSL service, is giving its customers an extra 10 gigabytes of usage and a $10 credit on their existing plans.

Bell Mobility offer customers devices that create mobile hotspots that can plug into the USB port of a laptop or desktop computers, such as the Turbo Hub and Turbo Stick.

As for SSi Micro, they said they’re in “discussions” with their backbone provider and with government to find ways to increase their capacity.

But at the same time, they urge everyone, including their competitors, to practice social solidarity.

“The need right now is for all of us to be careful,” Proctor said.

Meanwhile, Xplornet, a service that uses satellite dishes installed at the user’s residence, says it’s waiving overage charges until April 30.

Also, Ice Wireless will suspend data throttling for users who exceed 10 gigabytes a month of data use.

SSi Mobile Qiniq COVID-19 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Guy on

    That’s rich coming from Qiniq! Arent they the ones who are piggybacking on the dregs of the other provider and are unwilling to provide additional capacity to their users? Over-use may harm their customers but for those of us who are paying for dedicated bandwidth we should be just fine. Oh and BTW this is definitely not an example of a tragedy of the commons, somebody needs to go back to school and take macro-economics again.

    • Posted by Me on

      If that the case well somebody has to go back to schooling again.

  2. Posted by David Veniot on

    Tragedy of the Commons
    A situation in a shared resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.

    William Forster Lloyd
    British Economist

    • Posted by Xavier F on

      The “tragedy of the commons” is in fact a fallacy of western capitalist economic theory. The paper was written by one person, without peer review or any real examination of its accuracy.
      The paper was (and sadly continues to be) often cited, but never really examined.
      It was written in a time when there were a great many “commons” in England and private interests were looking for ways to justify privatizing these valuable public assets.
      The reasoning (it does not merit the term “theory”) put forward was that people are selfish and would inevitably ruin or otherwise misuse these resources. In fact, this was pure projection as study after study shows that public lands are effectively managed, whereas private interests have an overwhelming tendency to seek short term profits and “externalize” the environmental costs onto the government, in other words the public.
      Imagine a colonial government trying to tell you that your community would not know how to run a business, form a government, or manage your natural resources… does that sound familiar ?
      The myth of the “tragedy of the commons” basically implies that Traditional Knowledge will fail.
      People are very good at coming up with collective, cooperative solutions. The first step is believing in ourselves.

      • Posted by David Veniot on

        Thank you Xavier. Very informative and well researched. And to be clear, SSi-Qiniq is not saying that the interpretation of “Tragedy of Commons” that I have offered per William Forster Lloyd will actually come true. It is mere conjecture at this point, but one used to emphasize worst case scenario. If you can offer a better reference to accommodate Qiniq’s concern that the network will be overloaded and ineffective if people don’t heed the warning to conserve data, then please, with all due respect, put it out there. Anything and everything will help at this point. A lot of people will be deeply distressed if their internet grinds to a halt. Thank you.

  3. Posted by David VeNOT on

    A common resource (or the “commons”) is any scarce resource, such as water or pasture, that provides users with tangible benefits but which nobody in particular owns or has exclusive claim to. A major concern with common resources is overuse, especially when there are poor social-management systems in place to protect the core resource.

  4. Posted by David Veniot on

    Now Northern Guy is getting personal, playing with my name and hiding in anonymity. Immature and cowardly.

  5. Posted by Qiniq Customer on

    Qiniq is so greedy, dictator like service, they well block you from writing a comment on their Facebook page if you have offended them, I am paying Qiniq Customer since the beginning (due to no competition) and now I’m not allowed to comment on their Facebook page.
    Qiniq how can you be operating if you can barely keep up with little Nunavut-miut?

    • Posted by David Veniot on

      QINIQ has only recently blocked comments because they were distracting from the critical emergency message that QINIQ must get out during this unprecedented COVID crisis. And that message is the same one stated in this news article. The QINIQ network has limited capacity. It is an essential service for over 6000 Nunavut residents and businesses. Everyone must conserve data use, or else the network will slow to a crawl or gridlock, which would hurt all users. Many of the comments were negative and putting QINIQ down for not giving free excess data. They were among the few people who simply not getting the message. Thankfully, the majority of QINIQ’s customer are getting the message and not complaining.

  6. Posted by Nate on

    I think it’s obvious that Qiniq only started to really complain once the market came into excess bandwidth to be fought for with the launch of KA high throughput satellite for Telesat. I think that up until that point, Qiniq was fine taking the money from the Gov as their service provider and the people of Nunavut. I think there might be more than obvious reasons why NWTel got it over Qiniq. Also, I also agree that this isn’t tragedy of the commons because I mean, it is clearly a resource that is own by a single entity and sold off via middle men…….this is just a war of a product to sell.

    • Posted by David Veniot on

      SSi-QINIQ have been fighting for fair competition and a shared backbone for Nunavut for years now. The proposal to the federal government’s Connect to Innovate funding program over 2 years ago was all about building a backbone to be shared by all providers. You can read about it and the entire concept at QINIQ did not win than last round of funding, Northwestel did, on condition that they share the new Ka-band backbone capacity. To date, SSi-QINIQ have not been successful in acquiring some of that backbone, but discussions continue. As a result, QINIQ’s network remains limited and congested, especially during these COVID times.

  7. Posted by Starlink on

    Space X will be going live with Starlink later this year if Covid does not delay things. For those who do not know Starlink will use low earth orbiting satellites (there are over 300 already in orbit) to provide broadband as fast as fibre with tons of data to the world… with a target price of $80.00 per month, all the will be required is a small receiver the size of a pizza box. Profit made by Starlink will be used to support Mars Exploration as per Elon Musks commitment. These rates will dramatically lower the cost of internet to all of the North… including Nunavut. I expect that NWTel and other will try to stop the CRTC from allowing access to this service to Canadians, though the US has already approved it in the USA.

    If your interested in learning more check out there website and be ready to hear why NWTel and others think this is a horrible idea.

    • Posted by David Veniot on

      SSi-QINIQ is very interested in these new LEO satellites and sees them as the future of satellite broadband. SSi-QINIQ is in discussions with more than one LEO provider to help bring LEO connectivity to Nunavut. There will absolutely be no attempt by QINIQ to “stop the CRTC from allowing access”.

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