Hay River could soon have some of the best Internet service across Canada’s three territories. Northwestel, one of the largest Internet providers in the North, is in the process of replacing ageing infrastructure with modern fibre links that will drastically improve the speed and reliability of Internet in the community.

“Hay River is the second largest NWT city. Now with these significant investments, Northwestel will ensure that the community can receive telecommunications services on par with other large Northern population centres,” stated Northwestel President Curtis Shaw in a news release.

Northwestel plans a major Internet upgrade for Hay River over the next year.
NNSL file photo

“This year, we celebrate 40 years of Northwestel innovation in the North. Adding fibre to the home in Hay River is a milestone achievement worthy of that celebration.”

Work is already underway on replacing the old copper telephone lines with high-speed fibre cables. Although no exact date has been set for the launch, it is expected the improved service will be available to customers sometime in 2020.

The improvement will increase the capacity for Internet speeds and monthly data usage. At present, Hay River customers only have access to DSL Internet, which has a maximum bandwidth of 15 Mbps. In comparison, customers in Yellowknife are able to purchase packages with up to 250 Mbps for downloading files.

“The infrastructure we have in Yellowknife allows us to deliver services that are quite high speed,” said Andrew Anderson, director of communications for Northwestel.

Anderson told The Hub this is the first time the company will outfit an entire community with fibre lines.

He said the company will be treating the investment as a pilot project to test the feasibility of delivering fibre-based Internet services in other communities across the North.

In June, Northwestel was ordered to spend $5 million on infrastructure upgrades by the CRTC for charging for services without getting approval from the watchdog over a period of seven years.

Anderson said those upgrades are separate from its current pilot project in Hay River, which is seen as an investment for the company.

“Hay River has a lot of aging infrastructure,” said Anderson. “We really wanted to focus on a community where the aging infrastructure was providing limitations.”

Northwestel expects to complete the installation of the new lines by the end of the summer. It will then have to test the lines and adjust its equipment accordingly in order to deliver the new high-speed service.

Anderson said Northwestel will have to access about 300 properties in order to connect some homes. However, all the work will be done outside and Northwestel will not have to enter any residences.

The company is currently working to get the approval to move ahead with those plans. Those homeowners will likely receive flyers notifying them of the process in the coming weeks, he said.

Anderson added the service will not extend to the 10 per cent of Hay River homes that are considered remote.

“We want to make it clear that we can’t run fibre economically to all those places,” he said.

Once the upgrades are complete, Anderson said customers will have the option to keep their existing packages.

However, if they want to use the new high-speed service they will have to pay to upgrade their package.

Anderson said the exact speed of the Internet it can provide will depend on tests that will be conducted once the new infrastructure is in place.

“We can’t give specifics until we’ve completed the system and tested it,” he said. “It will be significantly improved upon that and comparable to what we see with other cities in the north.”