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Internet access a necessity, says petition aimed at Northwestel

The $1.75 billion investment in internet connectivity is the largest one-time investment in broadband since 2015, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday. Pixabay image

Hundreds of people have signed a petition urging Northwestel to waive overage charges until July, while introducing unlimited internet plans to meet soaring demands brought on by COVID-19.

A petition, launched by Melaw Nakehk'o, wants the service provider to recognize Northerners’ crucial need for high-speed, unlimited internet access -- especially in the “extraordinary” times facing residents in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Numerous residents are working from home, many alongside their children while schools remain closed, amid widening health safety measures introduced in the fight against COVID-19.

Northwestel announced last fall that it would work on bringing unlimited data plan packages to customers in the North. The territory is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada without access to unlimited internet data.

That means families and residents are quickly eating up data. Anticipating a surge of internet use, Northwestel applied to have overage fees waived for residents in most NWT communities for the months of March and April. For satellite-served communities, the company proposed doubling data caps to meet rising demands.

That application, made early last week, was rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The federal regulator asked the telecom company to resubmit its application without conditions.

Northwestel filed a revised application on Monday.

“Access to free, high-speed internet is a necessity during times of isolation, and is paramount to our way of life,” writes Nakehk'o on the petition page, titled "Accessible/Affordable Internet across the North -- #COVID19NWT."

“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,” Nakehk'o continued.

As of Monday afternoon, the petition had garnered nearly 300 signatures.