Northerners stuck inside during the Covid-19 pandemic may be streaming and binge-watching Tiger King without fear of exorbitant overage fees for now but that luxury might not be available come May.
Last month, internet provider Northwestel waived data overage fees for residential customers until the end of April. The company also doubled internet usage caps in satellite communities, including Colville Lake, Gameti, Lutsel K’e, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Samba K’e, Ulukhaktok and Wekweeti. But it’s not clear that the Bell Canada subsidiary will continue with the waiver.
RELATED REPORTING: Northwestel reapplies to waive March, April overage fees
“As of today we have not made any additional applications to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on residential usage,” Andrew Anderson, Northwestel spokesperson told NNSL Media on Wednesday.
However, Bell’s main competitor down south, Rogers, is extending its pandemic-related measures up until the summer.
In a news release on Thursday, the company said it is continuing its relief of certain services first introduced in March until June 30.
Those include: removing data usage caps for Rogers and Fido customers on limited home internet plans; waiving Canadian long-distance voice calling fees for wireless, home phone, and small businesses for Rogers, Fido and Chatr customers; ensuring that no Rogers and Fido services are suspended or disconnected for customers facing financial difficulties, and offering more flexible payment options for customers facing financial uncertainty due to Covid-19.
The company is also offering TV customers free access to a rotating set of channels including Tubi TV; Disney channels; movie channels such as Hollywood Suite, Super Channel Fuse and Super Channel Heart & Home; lifestyle channels like Investigation Discovery, Velocity, Slice and BBC Earth; entertainment channels such as FX, A&E, TLC and OLN; and multicultural channels like TV Asia and TLN.
As a recent online petition shows, Northerners want action on wider internet access and aren’t content to wait for a decision from Northwestel.
RELATED REPORTING: Internet access a necessity, says petition aimed at Northwestel
In March, Yellowknife resident Melaw Nakehk’o launched a petition on Change.org calling for free, high-speed internet in the NWT, under the title “Accessible/Affordable Internet across the North. – #COVID19NWT.”
“The CRTC has declared high-speed internet an essential service, vital to one’s quality of life. This is especially true for rural, and remote areas with limited high-quality fixed internet services and no shared market power,” the petition reads.
“During these extraordinary times, and to support the safety of Northwest Territories’ residents, we invite NorthwesTel to waive overage fees, and establish unlimited data plans, including for Satellite communities. Effective immediately, and until July 2020.”
As of press time, the petition had garnered 999 signatures, just one shy of its goal of 1,000. Nakehk’o could not be reached for comment.
After schools across the NWT were closed down because of the pandemic, education boards are expected to continue their programs remotely including through online learning on April 14.
RELATED REPORTING: Yellowknife school boards work out distance learning
For Tina Drew, the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board of trustees chairperson, students and families must have internet access.
“It’s necessary for students to have access to the internet so they can do their work,” she said.
“I raised the issue with the Minister of Education. They’re working on it. The internet is vital to learning. I have asked that fees be waived so that all people can have access to the internet, not just in Yellowknife but across the NWT. We need to have equity across the territory. I believe the CRTC should be involved.”
CRTC representation of the North
Six commissioners represent the regions of Canada. The territories are covered by three commissioners who also represent other provinces and regions.
Of the three commissioners representing the territories, only one is a resident. Claire Anderson, who represents the Yukon and British Columbia is a lawyer in Whitehorse.
Dr. Linda Vennard is currently listed as representing the NWT and Alberta but lives in Alberta.
The CRTC posted a notice in January seeking commissioners to represent NWT/Alberta and Nunavut/Atlantic. It isn’t clear how much interest there was from Northerners to represent NWT’s interests on the CRTC. The posting is now closed.
The salary range was listed as $150,200 to $176,600 per year.
Information on who submits applications from where isn’t available, said spokesperson Patricia Valladao.
“The government makes the appointments,” she said. “All those who submit applications to the position do that to the government and once the person is chosen we find out at the same time as everyone else.”