Ottawa commits $50M to get all 25 Nunavut communities faster internet by 2019

All 25 communities in Nunavut will have faster internet by 2019, after a new satellite to be launched next year gives the territory access to a different frequency with more capacity.

Internet speeds in the territory will increase by 3 to 5 times

It falls to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains' department to make any changes to bankruptcy laws. (Travis Burke/CBC)

All 25 communities in Nunavut will have faster internet by 2019, after a new satellite to be launched next year gives the territory access to a different frequency with more capacity.

The satellite launch and construction of the associated receiver dishes in each community was the telecommunications service provider Northwestel's pitch to the federal government's "Connect to Innovate" program.

This is the first project funded by the $500-million initiative, which is meant to improve rural internet speeds.

This project's portion is just less than 10 per cent of that fund, with a federal government contribution of $49.9 million.
The new satellite by Telesat will operate within the frequency range of the Ka-band instead of C-band, which Nunavut currently uses. (Northwestel)

Northwestel is committing $73 million to the project and is beginning to sealift construction supplies up this year. It expects some communities will have access to faster internet before the end of next year, while others will have to wait until 2019.

It has not yet announced which communities will receive the service first.

Right now, Nunavut has download speeds of between one and three megabits per second, a number far below the 50 megabits per second that the CRTC ruled all households in Canada must have access to within the next 10 to 15 years.

This project targets the "backbone" infrastructure, meaning that other providers will be able to use the "data highway" this satellite will provide.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said that households would have internet speeds three to five times faster, with further improvements to come.

"The likelihood is we're going to get into the gigabits very soon ... for video conferencing, for learning remotely, to dealing with remote health-care issues, so the potential is enormous," Bains said.

Bains made the funding announcement at the Iqaluit library on Thursday. He called Iqaluit "the perfect place" to discuss the tools Canadians need to participate in the digital economy.

Many Nunavummiut spend a significant amount of time online. Social media helps them connect with relatives and friends in distant communities where travel is expensive. 

3 times faster internet

Northwestel is expecting to increase its current capacity by 20 times.

The government of Nunavut alone will have access to 5,000 megabits per second for schools, health centres, libraries and other internet draws.

Curtis Shaw, the chief operating officer for Northwestel, said the speed targets for the new system will be 15 megabits per second, three times the top end available in Iqaluit now.

Shaw said the satellite beams will be targeted directly over Nunavut instead of the signal being diffused across North America.

Shaw said this investment in satellite technology does not preclude the possibility of running fibre-optic cable, which many of Nunavut's Inuit organizations have pushed for to give local businesses a competitive edge.

Instead, this approach allows all Nunavut communities to benefit nearly simultaneously from a speed bump.

If in the coming years fibre-optic cable is laid up to Iqaluit, then this system has the ability to redirect Iqaluit's bandwidth to the other communities, he said.

Shaw said that fibre-optic cable will eventually be necessary to bring Nunavut up to speed with the rest of the world, as there will always be a delay relaying data via satellite.

About the Author

Sara Frizzell

Web Writer/Reporter

Sara Frizzell has been a reporter with CBC News in Iqaluit since February 2017. She's worked in radio, podcasting and longform journalism since graduating from Carleton University's journalism program in 2013. Contact her at sara.frizzell@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press