Internet connectivity is something our neighbours to the south take for granted.

It’s no secret that most infrastructure in the territory is seriously lacking — as highlighted in the oft-referenced Nunavut Infrastructure Gap Report, completed by Nunavut Tunngavik in October 2020.

One of the highlights in that report was the fact that Nunavummiut are accessing the internet at a fastest possible speed that’s eight times slower than the Canada-wide average.

This affects everything in our modern society, and that’s not an exaggeration.

The internet is how many of us communicate on a day-to-day basis. It’s how students complete remote coursework, how we do our jobs from home during lockdowns, how we order goods that aren’t otherwise readily available.

The 2018 Internet Factbook – an annual study produced by The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) – showed that 71 per cent of Canadians spend at least three hours online per day, whether answering emails, browsing social media, banking, streaming or gaming. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen more and more activities shift to a virtual platform, so that number is likely to have increased — the 2021 report of the same provenance states 72 per cent of Canadians spend at least one hour per day streaming content online. Many Canadians had also had novel experiences, like accessing healthcare or working remotely for the first time.

Northwestel confirmed to Kivalliq News that there have been “significant shifts in internet use as more people are working and studying from home,” with more devices connecting at once, which impacts customer experience.

Right now, the backbone of Nunavut’s internet services is based off satellite, which has improved in leaps and bounds over the past few years, but is still relatively slow and prohibitively expensive.

SSi Canada, the parent company of Qiniq, is primarily responsible for this network, and it has invested more than $100 million in internet infrastructure in the territory since 2005. In January, the company raised data caps after increasing the network’s capacity by acquiring access to a dedicated satellite for Canada’s North. A great step, but still not enough, even in the eyes of chief development officer Dean Proctor.

“Is that enough? No,” said Proctor. “But it’s much better than it was, and we’re still working to get more done.”

Unfortunately for SSi, the federal government appears to have stopped picking up the phone, with an apparent focus on fiber-optic projects, three of which are in talks and all of which come with impressive price tags.

The Department of Community and Government Services is responsible for managing the design and construction of the Government of Nunavut’s fiber link to southern Canada, approved in the 2018-‘19 fiscal year and expected to be completed in 2025-‘26 with a projected $209.5-million overall price tag.

At this point in time, the infrastructure would be completely owned by the GN, but the crux of the issue is the gap between the $150 million provided by the Government of Canada and the $17.5 million GN has earmarked. Any additional costs incurred – which MLA John Main has raised concerns over more than once – could take away from other much-needed programming.

The Nunavut Implementation Committee (NIC) stated in 1995 that a state-of-the-art electronic communications network was critical to Nunavut’s success, and urged that the network be built up as soon as possible as an investment in the territory’s future and ability to operate in what was already becoming a more digital world. Those recommendations fell on deaf ears.

NIC also warned: “The price of entrance into the electronic marketplace will be higher the longer the basic infrastructure remains absent, and the social and economic penalties of an inability to participate will be that much greater.”

It’s a shame those forward-thinkers weren’t listened to 27 years ago. Now Nunavummiut must make do with less than the rest of the country in this arena while bearing higher costs. Even if the GN can pull off this fiber-optic project, it will still take several more years of hoping you can get your email to send before the network drops after school.

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