What’s a WE revolution? It’s WEB EQUALITY for Northern Canadians which presently doesn’t exist.Bruce Valpy, Publisher, NNSL Media, Northern News Services Ltd.

The revolt started quietly with serious chatter about whether Northwestel would be forgiving data overage charges during the Covid-19 crisis.

It was a gathering, grumbling storm of discontent among the people painfully anticipating a bank-breaking internet usage bill built on couch kids and video games, Netflix, Disney channel, work from home, social media and online news, etc. There was even a petition started by Melaw Nakehk’o of Yellowknife that was filling up by the minute.

Melaw Nakehk’o started a petition on Change.org calling for affordable Internet in Northern Canada. file photo/old.nnsl.com

According to NNSL Newsroom, Northwestel needed and got permission to forgive those charges from the god-like, enigmatic CRTC. The Canadian Regulatory Communications Commission decides what Canadians watch on TV, listen to on radio, how much we pay for telephone and internet service. Most people have never heard of it. 

The CRTC is a chairperson, two vice-chairpersons, and up to 10 regional commissioners. See them here. The commission follows legislation framed by a fine mesh of complex regulations. It’s so complicated, consultants charging hundreds of dollars an hour are needed to put it in simple English or French.

Curiously, these 10 regional commissioners don’t represent each of our 10 provinces. No, the Atlantic provinces are grouped together as are Manitoba and Saskatchewan. It might surprise you to know that Nunavut (pop. 33,000) is grouped with the Atlantic Provinces (pop. 2.3 million), Northwest Territories  (42,000) with Alberta (pop 4.4 million) and Yukon(34,000) with British Columbia (5.1 million). 

Putting that into perspective, Nunavut, NWT and Yukon, are like little tundra and bush people the Atlantic, Alberta and B.C. commissioners can carry around in their purse and pocket. We perch silently on their knees at a meeting. (Have been informed Claire Anderson, Commissioner, British Columbia and Yukon is a Whitehorse lawyer and a citizen of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. She can answer to her tiny constituents). We don’t have an equal voice, we are more a destination where you fly in and fly out to “consult” and tell your friends you’ve been there. You soon forget about them because, well, they’re just so tiny.

What is the proof of that? You can find CRTC’s mandate here. The part that applies to the North where they are failing at can be found in these words:

Connect. These activities (regulating Internet, phone, TV, radio) are aimed at ensuring Canadians can connect to quality and innovative communication services at affordable prices.

Bell Canada internet packages in southern Canada

Qiniq Internet packages in Nunavut
Northwestel Internet packages in Northwest Territories.

The screenshots here show Northerners pay far more than what’s considered ‘affordable’ prices.  ‘Affordable’ to me means the average most Canadians can afford to pay. The NWT and Yukon pay over twice as much as people in the south, Nunavut  three times as much, for far LESS service. 

The logic that the 35 million people with an internet connection should pay for the national communication grid south of 60, while 109,000 Northerners pay more for the remaining third of the country is absurd. That’s like putting a toll on the Trans-Canada Highway and charging people in Alberta and B.C. over twice as much because they live so far away from Ottawa.

For all the evils of COVID-19, it has cemented the reality that internet service is an essential service in the North. It is television, radio, phone services, internet all in one. Our governments, with the majority of staff working from home, now govern by internet and communicate to the people by internet. Now, Northern children will rely on it for their education. The bills for normal usage and overages is nothing less than an overburdening, terribly unfair, crippling tax on Northern Canadians.

Northwestel and to a lesser degree Qiniq are the target of a lot of anger. That’s misplaced. Northwestel has a business deal with the CRTC. For a modest profit, Northwestel builds, maintains and operates the telephone and internet network in the North. Similarly, Qiniq connects the internet in Nunavut by satellite and must charge even heftier prices for a similar modest margin. These Northern companies must be given the financial resources to do more.

That’s where we need the people’s movement to continue rolling for the sake of all three territories. Go to Nakehk’o’s petition on Change.org and let the GNWT, GN, YG and the Prime Minister know we demand proper representation on the CRTC and immediate action on Web Equality.

A petition on Change.org calling for affordable Internet in Northern Canada



Bruce Valpy

Bruce Valpy is former Publisher/CEO of NNSL Media. He can be reached at 1-867-445-2040

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