G7 tests Nunavut data networks

Nunavut's limited telecommunications networks are trying to keep up with an influx of laptops and cellphones for this weekend's G7 meeting.
The gathering of G7 finance ministers and central bankers will be the first to be held in northern Canada when it begins Friday in Iqaluit.
Nunavut's limited telecommunications networks are trying to keep up with an influx of laptops and cellphones for this weekend's G7 meeting.

Northwestel, the primary telecommunications company in Canada's North, says it is boosting internet and cellular phone capacity in time for the two-day summit of international finance ministers and central bank governors, which begins Friday in the Nunavut capital.

The rush to ramp up telecommunications systems comes as some of the 100 or so national and foreign journalists covering the high-level finance meeting say their phones don't work in Iqaluit.

"Cellphones are not working," said Rita Lofano of the Italian news agency AGI. "I work for a newswire, so now I'm just thinking of how am I going to do. From the media point of view, it's a disaster."

Northwestel spokesperson Anne Kennedy said a company has been contracted to provide 80 prepaid cellphones for people whose phones are not compatible with Nunavut's cellular network, which is maintained by Northwestel for Bell Mobility.

Dropped calls

Northwestel has also added a second and third channel for cellphones, but Kennedy said all customers could expect some dropped and incomplete cellphone calls while the G7 meeting is underway.

"They might get a busy signal when they're calling long distance, they might have difficulty getting a dial tone when they pick up a phone," she added.

As for internet speeds, Kennedy said Northwestel has increased its internet capacity twice, including a 30 per cent boost in December. Nunavut's internet access is satellite-based, not using fibre-optic cables as in southern Canada.

"The Christmas addition of bandwidth is actually a permanent increase in service, and for the G7 we're adding about another 25 per cent more capacity on a temporary basis," she said.

Some journalists said they are taking the telecommunications limitations in stride, considering they are in the North.

"This is a pretty unique experience up here, so I think we can deal with the slower internet connection and enjoy the Canadian Arctic," said Rob Gillies of The Associated Press.

"Certainly no one's going to forget this meeting."

Extra RCMP arrive

Supt. Howard Eaton said despite the heightened security during the G7 meeting, Iqaluit residents should encounter few disruptions this weekend. ((Patricia Bell/CBC))
Meanwhile, extra RCMP officers, including dozens of members from the Protective Policing Unit in Ottawa, have also landed in Iqaluit to help with security during the G7 meeting.

Police are working with a comprehensive operational plan, including logistics and security details.

The visiting officers are also being educated on unique aspects of the North, such as the common presence of Inuit hunters around the city.

"They have been briefed on the idea that there are people that are moving about on snowmobiles with rifles," said Supt. Howard Eaton, who heads up the Nunavut RCMP's criminal operations.

"We've also sent a letter out to the hunters and trappers association and advised them that this is taking place and asked them to ask their members to try to refrain from coming through the four-way stop if there's another way they can get to where they need to go."

Eaton said many local RCMP officers will be on hand at security points, along with officers from other Nunavut communities like Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay.

RCMP officials say they are not expecting many protests during the weekend G7 meeting, given Iqaluit's remote location and the costs of getting there.