Community in Arctic Canada frustrated by months-long internet and cell service issues

Northwestel equipment in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. After what residents describe as months of spotty internet and cell services in the community, Northwestel says it may finally be fixed this week. (Submitted by Frank Schmidt)
After what residents describe as months of spotty internet and cell services in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, Northwestel says issues may finally be fixed this week.

“It’s certainly frustrating and it’s costing me,” said Frank Schmidt, who works from home to run his business and heavily relies on internet and phone services.

“Because my work depends on it, it’s caused me a lot of frustrations and embarrassment.”

He said he noticed the issues more than two months ago.

Schmidt described distortions, feedback and line cuts during calls, and internet services cutting off and slowing down as frequently as once per hour “on a bad day.”

“You try to be patient and tolerant, but from my experience in the IT industry, to have this kind of an outage is essentially unacceptable,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said he’s contacted Northwestel, Bell (which owns Northwestel), and the CRTC but received little to no explanation about the source of the problem.

If the issue isn’t resolved soon, Schmidt said he has to consider moving out of the community to maintain his business.

We’re very aware of the issue. We’re aware that it is trying on our customers.

Andrew Anderson, Northwestel

Resident Brandon Villeneuve says calls drop and basic webpages like Google sometimes won’t load for him since February.

“It’s way past ridiculous and Northwestel [and] Bell [have] been largely silent,” said Villeneuve in a Facebook message to CBC. “They seem to be in absolutely no rush to fix our issues.”

In a community Facebook page, more residents described their experiences.

“Paying $160 monthly for home phone and internet,” said one resident. “Never had issues until this spring. It has been up and down to no service at all.”

Others expressed their frustrations.

“It’s crap … We’re just getting robbed,” wrote a resident.

Meanwhile, with few answers, others suggested their own solutions.

“I feel that we must come together as a community and protest against this injustice,” said a resident in a post.​​​​​

Northwestel hopes to fix issue this week

Northwestel confirmed to CBC there’s a “community-wide network issue” that’s been disrupting services.

“We’re very aware of the issue. We’re aware that it is trying on our customers,” said Andrew Anderson, Northwestel’s director of communications.

Anderson said customers have reported issues starting several weeks ago. He said technicians are currently working to resolve the issue.

“I am hopeful that Northwestel technicians will have a resolution in place this week,” he said.

Anderson said the problem involves a “complex network involving infrastructure” in the community, like satellite infrastructure. He said because landline phone services run on a different network, those services weren’t affected — despite residents also posting about landline issues. However, Anderson said he’s received complaints about internet and cellular services.

“We know this has had a truly unfortunate impact on customers,” said Anderson.

Customers will automatically receive credits proportional to the impacts on their accounts, but only after the network issue has been resolved, said Anderson.

With files from Donna McElligot

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Northwestel wants to improve broadband to small communities in northwestern Canada, CBC News

Finland: Major step towards a Europe-Asia Arctic cable link, Yle News

Norway: New satellites to boost communications in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian military to get fast, secure internet through trans-Arctic cable, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Northern Sweden to host more Facebook servers, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s first wireless 5G network to be built in Anchorage, Alaska Public Media

Priscilla Hwang, CBC News

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