Canada announces $72M in broadband internet improvements for northern communities

A Northwestel installation in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Nunavut was excluded from this first round of broadband funding announced by CRTC Wednesday. (Karen McColl/CBC)
Five northern community broadband projects in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and northern Manitoba will share in $72 million of Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Broadband Fund money.

According to a press release from the CRTC Wednesday, the projects are designed to improve broadband internet service for about 10,100 households in 51 communities.

The money is part of a plan by the federal government to make up to $6 billion worth of improvements to broadband services in rural and remote communities over the next ten years. Many communities in the North rely on slower satellite data connections for internet service.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical need for reliable communications networks to navigate everyday life, as many Canadians were challenged by poor internet connections,” stated CRTC chairperson Ian Scott in a press release. “Today’s announcement marks a key milestone toward closing the digital divide.”

Northwestel gets four projects

The money will go to Northwestel for two projects in the N.W.T. and two projects in Yukon, and to Broadband Communications North for a satellite project in northern Manitoba.

All projects will improve internet service in communities that do not meet a “universal service objective.”

According to the press release, 316 kilometres of new fibre optic line will be installed in Yukon and the N.W.T.

In Manitoba, five satellite-dependent communities will have access to 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, but with unlimited data. The press release states this interim work in Manitoba represents “a significant improvement” over service those communities now enjoy.

According to the press release, broadband projects in Nunavut were excluded from this first round of funding. The press release stated they were “deferred to the second call for applications” without saying why.

Yukon

Nineteen communities representing 4,680 households in Yukon are expected to have access to 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds (50/10) and unlimited data upon completion of Northwestel’s Yukon fibre project. The total cost of that project is $50 million, of which $38.6 million is coming from the money announced Wednesday.

Northwestel will receive a further $2.86 million from the fund for its Old Crow satellite project. Once completed, it is expected to bring 50/10 service with access to unlimited data to 189 households.

Northwest Territories

In the N.W.T., 18 communities representing 3,643 communities are expected to have 50/10 speeds and access to unlimited data after the completion of a fibre line project (details of the project were not provided). The total cost of the project is $24.5 million. The federal broadband fund’s contribution to the work is $16.8 million.

Eight other communities in the N.W.T. — Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, Łutselk’e, Sambaa K’e, Colville Lake, Gamètì, and Wekweètì — are expected to receive 50/10 service and access to unlimited data under Northwestel’s N.W.T. satellite project. The total cost for this is $6.1 million with $4.1 million coming from the broadband fund.

Manitoba

In Manitoba, Broadband Communications North will receive $9.1 million from the fund toward a $21.3 million project to offer 10 Mbps second upload and 1 Mbps download speed with access to unlimited data in Tadoule Lake, Barren Lands, Lac Brochet, Pukatawagan, and Shamattawa.

According to the CRTC, this is an interim project with more improvements to be delivered later.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: N.W.T. entrepreneur wants to help Canadian communities build their own internet networks, CBC News

Finland: Northern Scandinavia to pioneer commercial flights with electric planes, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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

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