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Northwestel will be able to offer unlimited internet packages and faster speeds in 26 of the NWT’s 33 communities as soon as next year.

Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said in a press release Wednesday that $72.1 million is to be directed at five projects across the North to improve access to high-quality broadband internet service. The projects are expected to impact more than 10,000 households in 51 communities around the North, and will require infrastructure construction that’s expected to start in 2021.

That 51 includes the lion’s share, or 26, of the NWT’s 33 communities. The rest are in Northern Manitoba and the Yukon; none are in Nunavut.

Ian Scott, chair of the CRTC
Photo  by Sebastien Lavallee

The CRTC’s Broadband Fund will support two NWT projects that were identified as priorities following a series of public proceedings over the last three to four years, Scott said.

Service in the communities of Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, Lutsel k’e, Sambaa K’e, Colville Lake, Gameti and Wekweeti will improve to a maximum download speed of 50 Mbps and a maximum upload speed of 10 Mbps with an unlimited data package offered. This project will impact 692 households.

The second project will bring the same speeds to 3,643 households in Aklavik, Behchoko, Deline, Dettah, Enterprise, Fort Good Hope, Fort Liard, Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, Kakisa, Nahanni Butte, Tsiigehthic, Tuktoyaktuk, Tulita and Wrigley.

Northwestel is to begin construction on the necessary infrastructure in 2021, Scott said.

“I think it’s a good day for the CRTC but more importantly, it’s a good day for more than 10,000 households in 51 communities around the North,” Scott said. “It’s a commitment for money going out the door to improve broadband access in some of the most needy areas of the country, so I’m very happy that the Commission is able to get these first two projects (for the NWT) announced, and I look forward to more.”

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Scott said in an interview with NNSL Media that the “rural-urban divide” in digital broadband service – when it comes to pricing and quality of service – is an ongoing challenge and that the North is a “prime candidate for that divide.”

“The commission is well aware of the problem and (today’s announcement) was the beginning of the answer,” Scott said.

What is especially beneficial about the announcement is that it targets Indigenous communities in particular, Scott said.

Scott was pressed on the common complaint in the North that the poorest region in Canada is paying the highest prices.

“I think the commission recognized that very issue, and has said that we need to change the definition of what’s the basic service objective,” Scott said. “It’s not telephone service anymore. It’s broadband. It established an aspirational target saying, 50 (Mbps download) and 10 (10 Mbps) is the level of service that it expected, you know would be needed for the foreseeable future for families in in an information economy, and it created a fund to support the deployment of broadband.”

Ian Scott, chair and CEO of the CRTC said he is aware of the ongoing challenges in the North and some remote communities and is hoping Wednesday’s funding announcement will be the first step in addressing pricing challenges and access to quality Internet. 
photo courtesy of Sebastien Lavallee

There is also added need because of the Covid-19 pandemic where many schoolchildren need high quality internet access to access studies as the new school year approaches and where many bureaucrats and office workers need the service as they work from home remotely.

Northwestel stated in a brief news release on Wednesday afternoon that the quality of service will improve for Northern residents in the NWT and Yukon.

“Today’s CRTC Broadband Fund announcement is great news for Northern Canadians,” state Curtis Shaw, Northwestel president. “The CRTC’s $62.46 million in funding along with Northwestel’s continued significant investments will increase Internet speeds …and provide an option for unlimited service.”

Shaw said he was grateful to the commission for allowing his company to deliver the service. He added his thanks to both territorial governments as well as Indigenous governments and community representatives that supported applications for funding.

More information was expected to be forthcoming from Northwestel as of Wednesday night.

NNSL Media was unable to get answers to questions regarding when construction will be completed or when unlimited Internet packages will be available for purchase.

Scott said that there remain steps before construction takes place, including how specific infrastructure projects will be completed for each community.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Policy , project construction must be completed within three years of the funding decision.

Northwestel also has to submit a statement of work package within 10 days on its its intent to proceed  and follow up with the CRTC within 120 days, a more detailed work package for approval. That would include project dates and schedules, as well as other information required from the commission like network diagrams and descriptions, project sites, equipment details, costs and milestones.

“Before (construction starts next year) they’ve got to reach agreements with us …. or service commitments,” Scot said. “So they’ve got to reach an agreement or a statement of work that sets out a schedule that this is what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it and what equipment they’re going to use. Then we will start giving out money based on those service agreements.”

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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