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EDITORIAL: Around the Arctic October 25, 2012 - 9:30 am
It's time for movement on Arctic telecoms
You know how bad it can get.
It's the government employer who blocks websites to save bandwidth. It's
the internet link that dies in the middle of an email download. Or maybe
it's the cell phone — if you're lucky enough to even get cell service —
that never works when you need it the most.
No regular person who reads this — especially any Arctic resident reading
this on the internet — can deny that a top-to-bottom overhaul of northern
Canada's rickety telecommunications system is long overdue.
The companies who sell these services, and now, even governments, know
what you know about how bad it can get.
For some, the Oct. 6, 2011 software glitch that threw the Anik F2
satellite out of whack for most the day was a big wake-up call.
Within a week, Government of Nunavut officials met to figure out how to
better cope with such a screw-up in the future.
But even before that, at the behest of Joint Task Force North, Public
Safety Canada and other government agencies, a bureaucratic group called
the Northern Communications and Information Systems Working group had
already delved into the issue.
The title of their August 2011 report says it all: "A Matter of Survival."
They began work on it after a less well publicized communications meltdown
that occurred in August 2009. This was during the Operation Nanook
exercise near Iqaluit, when emergency responders discovered their cell
phone and internet connections repeatedly failed.
At the same time, a complex menu of federal government broadband subsidies
for rural and remote regions, delivered through Industry Canada, is due to
expire by 2016.
So what should government do?
First, territorial, provincial and federal governments should take a good
look at what, in the Arctic, amounts to a new technology: undersea
The leading proponent of this technology, a firm called Arctic Fibre Inc.,
plans to invest some $600 million of private money in an undersea cable
between Europe and Asia. This cable would pass through waters off Nunavut,
Labrador, Nunavik, the Northwest Territories and Alaska.
Arctic Fibre has just applied for the the necessary licences. They're
lining up customers. If they get the required number of telecom firms to
sign on, especially in Asia, they will build this line. When that happens,
52 per cent of Nunavut's population will get high-speed telecommunications
at a dramatically lower cost.
No government with jurisdiction over any section of Canada's eastern
Arctic can afford to ignore this opportunity. Should the Government of
Nunavut, for example, ignore this development, they would likely endure a
major political embarrassment.