Slower internet spurs calls for better connection in Nunavut

One Iqaluit resident says his speeds are half of what they usual are

A modem sits by a window. Nunavummiut have complained about slower internet, particularly in the evenings, through January. (Photo by Felix St-Aubin)

By David Lochead

The new year has brought slower internet to Nunavut, spurring some to call for better communications infrastructure in the North.

“It’s been extremely slow,” said Jared Ottenhof, who lives in Iqaluit.

Ottenhof, who uses Northwestel as his internet provider, says his internet speed tests in January have been half what they usually are. Typically, Ottenhof can download at a rate of 15 megabits per second, which is the standard for his plan. But recently he said his speeds are around eight or nine megabits per second.

At home, Ottenhof said he has struggled to do simple tasks such as check email or Facebook updates. “It’s simply not working,” Ottenhof said.

Those problems also extend to his mobile phone apps for online banking and instant messaging.

For Mary-Lee Aliyak, slower internet is hurting her ability to earn an income.

As a stand-up comedian, master of ceremonies and someone who performs qulliq lighting ceremonies, Aliyak depends on the internet to do her work virtually during COVID-19.

“I haven’t been able to do that because of the (internet) connection problems,” Aliyak said, who is also a single mother to five children.

Aliyak accesses the internet through her Bell cellular data plan. Customers of Northwestel and Bell both operate on Northwestel’s Tamarmik Nunaliit satellite network.

Aliyak said her internet began to slow down in late November.

Her children also have problems with the internet. For example, one of her daughters relies on an app on her phone for learning, but struggles to download it. And when downloads continuously stop and restart, it results in data overages.

When Aliyak contacted Bell, she said the company told her that there was a problem with one of their connection towers. She said Bell halved the normal price of her data bill, which is around $490, for January.

In Rankin Inlet, Amanda Arsenault said she and other people she knows in the community have complained about the slow internet connection over the past four weeks. Arsenault is a Northwestel customer.

Both Arsenault and Ottenhof said the slow internet is most noticeable during the evenings.

“It just feels like the network is overwhelmed. They’re throttling people during peak hours,” Arsenault said.

Northwestel’s director of communication, Andrew Anderson, said the company is seeing significant shifts in internet usage as more people are working and studying from home. Specifically, more devices are being used on the same internet connection.

Anderson said Northwestel made network changes Monday evening that the company expects to improve service. He added Northwestel is working to get more satellite capacity in the coming months.

He also said that Northwestel implemented a permanent $20 per month price decrease and increased monthly data last year in anticipation of the challenges COVID-19 is bringing to internet service.

Ottenhof said the changes in speed he noticed this week have been marginal if at all, adding he still has trouble using mobile internet.

Arsenault said her internet speed had improved a small amount on Thursday.

Regardless, both Ottenhof and Arsenault say better internet infrastructure is needed for the territory’s connection problems to go away.

“I think reliability needs to improve,” Ottenhof said.

The Government of Nunavut has been trying to build a fibre optic connection to the territory for years, with help from the federal government. Last year, the plan was to connect via an undersea cable to Nunavik. CanArctic Inuit Networks, a private business, has also been working on bringing fibre-optic undersea cables to the territory.

While not yet available, Starlink and Oneweb have said they intend to bring faster internet to Nunavut through low orbit satellites.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Old timer on

    Will come to the north Ottenhof.

    • Posted by Ottenhof on


  2. Posted by Chips on

    “Northwestel’s director of communication, Andrew Anderson, said the company is seeing significant shifts in internet usage as more people are working and studying from home. Specifically, more devices are being used on the same internet connection.”

    No. Just stop. In the last two months the internet has slowed down at 6:30 or so until midnight. I might add, it’s also garbage and unreliable during the day too, but it gets almost unusable in the evening. People working from home during the day doesn’t explain why it slows down at night. Not to mention, the pandemic has had more people working from home off and on for two years. And people have had multiple devices for years, so spare me that excuse too.

    It’s interesting that when I called to complain a couple of weeks ago, the person I spoke to suggested the problem was my modem or router. The next person said something totally different. Now this person in the article is blaming people and their changing (but actually not changing at all) browsing habits. I’d have more respect for him if he just said they don’t know.

    Starlink is coming. There was just an article on CBC about how Starlink has been working for rural New Brunswick. They said it has been life-changing. You have to pay a deposit now, but I feel like it will be worth it in the end. It won’t hurt to try.

  3. Posted by Not Good on

    Internet service in Rankin Inlet has been really bad for almost a year now. It’s so bad, stores cannot serve customers by interact. It’s so bad, when store are cash only, people cannot go to the banks and get cash to purchase groceries leaving people not being able to make purchases or get cash for days. Northwestel and Qiniq have failed Nunavut. Expensive services and never able to provide half of what they claim is available through their services.

  4. Posted by OneMonopoly on

    OneWeb coming to the arctic sounds great… until you learn that Northwestel signed a MOU with OneWeb to provide those satellites to the government, mines, and business. No intention whatsoever of bringing that to the general public. No doubt Northwestel will be charging large markups to these customers for OneWeb, even though Northwestel had no involvement with creating or launching the satellites, only had to install some ground stations. The LEO satellites that will offer coverage to the majority of Nunavummiut will be Telesat’s through Northwestel, which is expected to be live in 2024.

    Northwestel is trying everything they can to stop competition before they have everything ready in 2024. Starlink is the only option. They are aiming to offer coverage to the arctic in 2022/23. Starlink is the one company Northwestel doesn’t have power over. Rest assured, they’ll continue to do their best to stop as many people as possible from switching. Removing the requirement for a phone line, lowering costs, either with a subsidy from the feds or by taking a hit out of their own pocket, increasing the data cap etc.

    Looking forward to ditching them as soon as my Starlink dish arrives.

  5. Posted by New guy to town on

    Yeah it sucks having my netflix in 4k buffer a lot.

    I see no one mentioned good old xplorenet. I have had it for 10++ years now and it always slows down after 6pm. When they oversold the signal here they even went as far as to throttle certain devices and prevented updates etc until after midnight. I had to get rid of all my Apple devices as they were 100% throttled on xplorenet, xplorenet would even block me signing into app store. Xplorenet throttles google synch, google drive, windows updates, microsoft office (makes it unusable as you can’t sign in and therefor microsoft won’t let you use the monthly subscription version of office). Any type of file sharing service or website was throttled, such as onedrive, etc. When we switched to working from home it made it incredibly difficult having your internet provide block all the relevant apps and services you need to work from home.

    Not really surprised as NWTEL, a satellite based company has one satellite tech for all of Nunavut, who was on stress leave as of a few weeks ago. Not to mention they have all services centralized in the Yukon and NWT, and have been reducing staff in Nunavut and cutting corners and costs by trying to hire staff here and not offering housing.

    • Posted by Dan on

      For what it’s worth, we’ve been on Xplornet since 2012 and have had pretty reasonable service throughout. Speeds and monthly data limits are enough for our family’s regular use, which includes a few popular streaming services, lots of work from home with video chats, and console updates. Our monthly internet bill is a quarter of the $490/month mentioned in the article (though maybe that includes phones too). We’ll stick with Xplornet for a while, I suspect, but more competition is always a good thing for consumers – bring on new options for the North!

  6. Posted by The IT Crowd on

    “Anderson said Northwestel made network changes Monday evening that the company expects to improve service.”

    Ah yes, network changes. I’m guessing they turned it off then turned it back on again. My confidence is restored!

    The sooner Starlink is available to dismantle Northwestel, the better.

  7. Posted by Ice fail on

    The modem in the photo is ice wireless, I had service for them for all of a year and returned their modem and cancelled their garbage service. They have been “sending a new tower on the summers sealift” as their fix now since they offered service here first

  8. Posted by Arviat on

    I have the same problem with my mobile with bell since I heard OneWeb successful launch. Don’t know if they had to do with it but the download speed when dramatically down, upload speed went up and the ping is now very high over 1700 (it usually was 600 ping).

  9. Posted by History on

    For those who don’t know.
    Nunavut had no cell service until about the year 2009/2010. Qiniq was the only Internet provider, which came in costly but home users were subsidized. All services in Nunavut are satellite based and satellites have expiration dates. Satellites only provides certain capacity at a high level of expense. Internet usage and streaming was not used some years ago, but now it’s common in most households.

    I agree that Qiniq and Northwestel has let its customers in Nunavut down. Both companies have received millions, if not more, of federal CRTC support to enhance their networks.
    OneWeb will not be accessible to residents, it will be business related, like government, or ISPs.
    Starlink will be a great option, but it’s doubtful if they can deliver. They are behind with the satellite coverage of the poles and their technology is already older that other ones like Telesat (not privately available once they have the birds up there) or Amazon. Yes, he is shooting satellites into space as well. The last option, Fiber, will happen sooner or later and it doesn’t matter if it will be delivered by a private company or the government.

    As for the comments on the NWTel support. I could not agree more. I thought Bell has poor support in general, but NWtel easily takes the #1 spot. They make you feel like an idiot when calling and reporting issues even the company itself is aware about (except the Helpdesk I guess)

    The speed however has gone up and the permanent Internet outages we experienced every evening have not returned

    • Posted by Grissy on

      Mine hasn’t gone up. Still takes takes several attempts to stream a YouTube video in 144p.

    • Posted by Fiber link on

      Fiber will happen sooner or later?

      Tell that to the NWT, who have had a lovely fiber line built from fort Simpson to tuktoyuktuk for years. Do all of the communities along the valley have fiber? No. Do any of them have fast internet? Not fiber fast. Most of them have DSL via microwave towers, Max of 15 down / 1 up for many communities, and Max usage of 450gb/month plus $2/GB. But the fiber line is right there. So what gives? Why can’t we be hooked up to the fibre line? NWtel has no competition and therefore no incentive to use the better infrastructure which already currently exists lmao. It’s wild.

      NWtel is garbage, through and through.

  10. Posted by Northern Guy on

    You lock up everyone in town in their homes and then wonder why the internet sucks? Seems pretty obvious to me. The increased demand can’t keep up with available bandwidth so everything bogs down. Try pushing a golf ball through a garden hose and see how far you get!

  11. Posted by JERRY on

    Some of us were here before there was any internet service at all. Long-distance ‘phone calls were expensive and unreliable. TV? No chance. Cell ‘phones? What’s that?

    My internet is not nearly as fast or reliable as my friends in the south, but it serves my purposes – which are basic.

    • Posted by Chilly on

      Right, JERRY, but now it is 2022, and NWTel claims to be able to provide internet at certain speeds, and they collect a hefty sum for it. The whole earth didn’t have internet at one time. Not just the north. Businesses are expected to deliver the services they charge for.

  12. Posted by Tom Shelby on

    The GN has been saying for years they are trying to get the underwater cable ran to connect Nunavut, I did hear awhile back they weren’t able to get the money to do this because of bad water in some community and one of the “top dogs” (Minister perhaps) said no until the bad water is fixed in one of the communities. What does water have to do with internet? Nothing but the “higher ups” have blinders on and need to realize internet is very important, all they need to do is read the comments above to figure that out.
    It’s time we get connected and see real high speed internet because NWT internet is not high speed internet.

  13. Posted by Left behind on

    For decades now Canada’s north has been left behind by all the other northern countries with internet technology.
    Everywhere else from Svalbard to Siberia they have fibre optic internet for at least a decade now.
    Canada’s north is the last place in the north for a long time now. Yet hundreds of millions spent on expensive slow satellite internet.

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