Ulukhaktok’s geography could make it an ideal place to set up its own internet infrastructure, according to an international advocacy group.
The Internet Society, an advocacy group based in Virginia seeking better and more open global internet connections, has been travelling around the NWT over the last few weeks to let people know how to set up community networks and access new funding to do so.
“A community network is essentially a network that is built by a community, with a community and for a community,” said Katie Jordan, senior policy advisor with the Internet Society, while she was in Ulukhaktok earlier this month.
The community network either sets up its own internet infrastructure, such as towers or ground stations or fibre line, to either increase the quality of the internet offered there or to bring in a separate internet service to fulfill their needs for speed and affordability.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began accepting applications for its Broadband Fund at the beginning of June.
The fund will give out $750 million over five years for remote communities to improve broadband and mobile wireless services.
“Closing the digital divide to enable all Canadians to participate fully in the digital economy is of paramount importance,” stated CRTC chair and CEO Ian Scott when applications opened.
“We are beginning by initially targeting the territories and satellite dependent communities where the need is great and will quickly address other regions later this year.”
Jordan says this is a perfect time for Ulukhaktok – as well as communities the society visited, including Norman Wells and Fort Simpson – to set up its own infrastructure, if community members decide that’s what they want.
“Ulukhaktok is in a sort of bowl shape where the majority of homes and buildings are in a central area,” said Jordan.
“Something that might work really well there is one centralized tower that connects back to a satellite or some other infrastructure, which would expand that services out across the community.”
Key to setting up these networks are “local champions,” says Jordan.
“There has to be people in the community to take this on and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to be the one to do this. I’m going to put in the time.’”
The first step with that is training, so that people in the community could fill jobs to maintain and fix the network infrastructure. The Internet Society helps link people up with this training.
“We really see the Northwest Territories as having the potential to become kind of Silicon North,” said Jordan, referencing the tech hub of Silicon Valley in California.
“There is so much willpower in these communities to bring in technical expertise to bring in new technologies and to become a really vibrant part of the growing internet community.”
Jordan says the North’s cool environment could make it a great home for data centres, which are needed more and more as the world moves into cloud computing. One of the largest costs for data centres is cooling them down.
As Inuvik has experienced with its ground stations, the NWT is also one of the best spots on Earth to retrieve data from low-orbit satellites.
Stronger internet makes opportunities like these more feasible, she said.
“I’ve had some really interesting conversations with people from the Northwest Territories recently where they reminded me that, you know, these communities have always used technology in really interesting ways to benefit their communities,” said Jordan.
“And the internet is really just the next step of that.”