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Ottawa needs to step in and invest in Northern internet

Access to an inexpensive, dependable and fast Internet connection is a basic right for all Canadians

In the great battle for market share among Inuvik internet providers, it’s safe to say both major players suffered blows this month.

First a sizeable chunk of the Beaufort Delta and much of the Yukon was crippled when a fibre-optic line serving Northwestel customers was severed. The outage was widespread and problematic enough that it may have helped accelerate a new fibre optic line project the Yukon government has been planning along the Dempster Highway, to connect with Inuvik. Considering how self-centred provinces and territories are normally, the Yukon’s willingness to build infrastructure in the NWT is beyond generous.

Restoring the cosmic balance a week later, a “faulty network component” sunk New North Networks users for almost an entire work week. Users now accustomed to five-second uploads were suddenly left figuring out how to use their mobile phones and limited data to do their jobs. For a newspaper with a press more than 1,000 kilometres away as the megabyte flies, this was no small obstacle.

However, in both cases these were minor inconveniences to adults. A third internet incident at the start of the month, in my view, was far more serious. Students at Helen Kalvak Elihakvik school in Ulukhaktok were robbed of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen. While the imaginations of kids from eight other schools got a spark from his stories of undersea diving and excursions into the deep caverns of Earth on his journey to the stars, these poor kids got a realistic experience of being alone in a spaceship.

An entire classroom of kids, eager to reach out to the stars, were grounded at the last minute because of slow internet. I can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel. These kids missed out on education solely due to the inaction of adults. How can we straight-faced tell kids they have the tools available to achieve their dreams when we can’t even put the person in front of them to say it?

Others around Inuvik who have attempted to work out of Ulukhaktok have told me anecdotally you could get faster connections in the hamlet with a dial-up. This all flies completely in the face of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission 2016 declaration that high speed internet is a fundamental right for all Canadians.

Ottawa needs to step up and invest some money in the Arctic internet infrastructure. Until it does this, the federal government will be failing its mandate to Northerners.

It’s certainly not as if the North and the Beaufort Delta in particular aren’t on Ottawa’s radar. I have counted six stories about funding provided for various projects in the region since March. Most of these revolve around green energy and language cultivation, but I don’t see how either of these efforts would be hindered by reliable internet.

Since there appears to be the interest in investing and developing the North, could I suggest the feds figure out how to establish high speed internet for all? Certainly the new fibre-optic line planned by Whitehorse, to join the Mackenzie Valley line, will help us here in the Delta. But what about people relying solely on satellite feeds?

Don’t they deserve to be treated like Canadians, too?

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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