Western Arctic hamlet left without reliable internet for 8 days, worst residents have seen

A view of a street in Ulukhaktok. The community has been without reliable internet for eight days, leaving some residents with no way to pay for essentials. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)
Residents of Ulukhaktok, a small Inuit community in Canada’s Northwest Territories (N.W.T.), say they’ve never experienced anything like this before — the internet has been cutting in and out for eight days straight, since a power outage on Feb. 24.

On Thursday, Joanne Ogina said it was the worst outage she has seen after hearing the internet had briefly returned.

“[I’m] frustrated. The internet has been in and out,” she told CBC.

“The ATMs, when they go down, when both stores get affected, you can only purchase with cash,” she said. “You can’t pull out any money at the office or the ATM so it’s very frustrating.

“You can’t charge on your accounts…. Even at the gas station, you can’t purchase gas, you can’t purchase fuel for your home unless you have cash.”

Ogina and other Ulukhaktok residents have tried to alert Northwestel, but the issue is ongoing.

Ogina said she had been told that although the internet company has technicians in the hamlet, that they are working on upgrades and “they’re not fixing the issue.”

She said she was lucky to be able to take out cash early on Thursday morning, but there are some residents that are in dire need. She said the outage is putting residents at risk.

“I was able to purchase fuel for my own home this morning, but later on the internet acted up … and another person in the community … couldn’t even pay for fuel,” said Ogina.

“We can afford it but can’t pay for it.”

This was all happening as a blizzard was expected to hit the community on Thursday evening.

Ulukhaktok Mayor Joshua Oliktoak also said he’s never seen an internet outage this bad in the community. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Ulukhaktok Mayor Joshua Oliktoak agreed with Ogina that an internet outage has never been so bad.

“This has been one of the worst times that I know of. It’s gone on for a few days before, but not to this extent,” Oliktoak said.

“We need help. We need somebody to come here and fix this situation because people are struggling to get groceries,” he said. “People are struggling to get heating fuel, to get gas for their snowmobiles.”

Oliktoak said he was trying to figure out with the senior administrative officer how they could come to the assistance of community members, and whether residents could rely on the food bank in the meantime.

Oliktoak also urged residents who are in dire situations to reach out to him personally since he “has some food at home and some cash” to help them in the meantime.

Northwestel’s director of communications, Andrew Anderson, confirmed to CBC Thursday evening that a technical issue has caused internet network congestion over the last eight days.

“During this time, data was still flowing in and out of the community and we did not fully realize the impact it was having on customers. We sincerely apologize for this error,” Anderson wrote in an emailed statement.

“We have taken steps to immediately improve internet service in the community and we are now confirming with customers that they are able to access the internet. Ulukhaktok customers will each get a one-week credit on their next bill.”

Related stories around the North:

Canada: Canadian PM promises to connect 98% of Canadians, including in North, to high-speed internet by 2026, CBC 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

Mackenzie Scott, CBC News

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