A report produced by the three northern territories and the federal government says that without upgrades to broadband internet services, northern economies could stagnate.

Right now, access to broadband internet is uneven across the North.

Steve Sorochan is the director of technology and telecommunications development for the Yukon government.

He cites a media company in Nunavut that has to ship video by plane.

“Where other media companies in the south could simply upload it through the internet, through a telecommunications network and be able to broadcast that video almost instantly.”

Sorochan says the report calls for changes.

“We want to ensure that northerners have access to fast, reliable and affordable broadband services similar to all Canadians and enjoy the benefits that type of connectivity brings, both the social benefits and the economic benefits.”

$600 million to $2 billion needed

Northern Connectivity: Ensuring Quality Communications pegs the cost of the upgrades at more than $600 million, and up to $2 billion, depending on the scale. It says the money would need to come from the federal government.

The report notes other northern jurisdictions, like Alaska and Finland, are aiming for internet speeds of 100 megabytes per second per household.

It says in northern Canada an average of 9 megabytes per second per household is more realistic.

Sorochan says 100 is already possible in Whitehorse, but it hasn't yet reached 9 megabytes in the communities.

Economic return

The report's authors calculated an estimate return on investment if broadband speeds of 9 megabytes per second were reached in the three northern territories.

The report also notes the cost of doing nothing.

"Without significant improvements to broadband connectivity levels in the North, the three Territories would likely see reduced economic growth, lower territorial tax base and correspondingly, stagnant or lower household income and fewer jobs." 

The report was a pan-territorial project, in partnership with the federal government.

It was conducted by the Northern Communications and Information Systems Working Group and led by Yukon’s Economic Development department.

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency contributed $368,000 to the effort, with contributions of $10,000 from Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.