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The issue: Internet access
We say: Make overage waivers permanent

There was a lovely show of aurora borealis over Yellowknife Monday night.

Or maybe that was just the collective sigh of relief from Yellowknifers as Northwestel announced there would be no overage charges this month or next for residential internet subscribers.

That means, at least until the end of April, while we endure the increasingly apocalyptic effect of coronavirus closures, residents of the city will at least be treated on equal ground with nearly every other Canadian with internet service in their home.

No more math in your head. No more choosing between streaming or downloading games and apps for the kids or (cough) yourself. No worries about billing your employer for the data you used working from home, which is what you’re really going to use the free bandwidth for, right?

Right. Forget the bread line, cue the panic buying of 4K ultra-high-definition televisions.

The petition started by Melaw Nakehk’o, which like all petitions and everything else nowadays, is hosted online, stands on solid ground. In the 1990s, the internet was a novelty. Now, it’s woven into our society, to our individual and collective consciousness. Tablets are required in schools, written into the curriculum now. Web access is a human right.

Just look at the response of content generators to the increasing social lockdowns happening across the globe, and to a degree, here in the NWT. Free online courses, free webinars, free access to channels, free concerts. All good and great, but not if you can’t afford to stream them.

As Nakehk’o put it: “By bringing families and communities together, ensuring timely information exchange, and supporting small businesses, high-speed internet has become fundamental to our mental health, overall health, and safety.”

But the petition doesn’t just ask for temporary relief due to COVID-19, it demands a permanent fix to what is becoming one of our biggest headaches. If all it takes for Northwestel to not charge people extra for using “too much” data is to ask the CRTC for permission, then why don’t they just ask for permission to put overages in the cold, hard ground where they belong?

For years we’ve been led to believe that the issue with unlimited internet is that there isn’t unlimited infrastructure to deliver it. The cable is just too thin. But how could this be if a request for billing relief can be made and approved in a matter of hours? This is a finger-snap, the flip of a switch, not the mobilization of a work crew to install a second line to increase capacity at a cost of millions of dollars. 

In the absence of this physical limitation, the only barrier appears to be a business decision. Is the CRTC forcing Northwestel to collect profits on the backs of individuals? This isn’t what regulators do. Regulators are supposed to protect consumers, but the North, for some unknowable reason, remains the Wild West in cyberspace. This is unacceptable.

Nakehk’o’s conclusion is impossible to improve upon so we will co-opt it:

It is time for Northwestel to stop pretending they do not have the capability to give the communities of the North equal, affordable pricing, and a service that is reliable.

 

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