Eight communities in NWT and one in the Yukon next spring will get faster browsing speeds and see their high internet fees drop 60 per cent next April.
The federal government is giving Northwestel more than $4.6 million to help the telecommunications company build a fibre-optic system in Jean Marie River (Tthek’ehdeli) and extend its satellite reach, which will bring new or better high-speed internet to the nine northern communities.
Northwestel is investing $1.5 million of its own capital in the project.
Communities that will benefit from improved internet services are:
- Kahbamiue (Colville Lake)
- Lutsel K’e
- Sachs Harbbour
- Saamba K’e (Trout Lake)
- Old Crow, Yukon
Currently, a high-speed internet package in these nine communities costs about $200 a month.
On April 1, 2019, that price will drop to $80, Paul Gillard, Northwestel’s vice-president of business markets, said Wednesday.
Gillard said the federal funding will allow Northwestel to keep prices at $80 a month for five years.
“While five years is not infinity, we are confident that we’ll have solutions in place to keep prices low at the end of that program,” he told media after the announcement.
High-speed internet is “a matter of equal opportunity,” MP Michael McLeod said on Wednesday.
He said faster internet will help people living in remote communities gain better online access to education programs and medical services, and allow them to “participate fully in the digital economy.”
“Good communications nowadays is just as important as having a road system into a community or a good airport that allows planes to land,” McLeod said in a media scrum following the announcement.
While people in southern Canada have enjoyed lower-cost high-speed internet for years, McLeod said it has taken so long for similar services to reach northern communities because “we didn’t have the right government in place.”
In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommuncations Commission (CRTC) decided that everyone in Canada, whether they live in urban or remote, rural areas, must have access to internet speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads.
The initiative with Northwestel was started before the CRTC set its upload and download targets, said McLeod.
“This is going to increase the speed significantly,” he said of the project, adding, “the targets is what we’re going to strive towards.”
Gillard said Northwestel is going to work with the CRTC to meet the commission’s stated targets in all NWT communities.