Feds say all N.W.T. communities have high-speed internet, residents disagree

After the federal government announced that every N.W.T. community now has 4G cell service and high speed internet, many residents say they still can't use certain technology like Android boxes or Netflix.

Some community members say they still can't use Android boxes or streaming services

Residents in many N.W.T. communities say despite some improvements to internet service, they're still not satisfied. (Chinnapong/Shutterstock)

The federal government announced this week that every community in the Northwest Territories now has 4G cell service and high speed internet, but some community members aren't convinced.

"Even though they're saying it's high speed internet, it's not really high speed," said Rocky Norwegian Sr., mayor of Tulita.

The announcement was in celebration of a 5-year project, completed at the end of September 2017 when Wekweeti received 4G cell service.

Northwestel invested about $230 million in the project, which improved mobile, telephone, and internet services for communities in the N.W.T., Yukon, northern B.C., and Alberta.

Norwegian said the internet speed is definitely better than it was a year ago, but he's still not fully satisfied.

He said it's not fast enough for him to use his Android TV box, which would let him watch Netflix. There's just not enough power to support that kind of streaming.

The main reason: residents in the community do not currently have access to a fibre optic line.

What is 'high speed'?

High speed internet is defined by the CRTC as 0.256 megabits per second (mbps). Northwestel is providing residents in communities with satellite internet access with five mbps download speed and one mbps upload speed.

Those numbers get faster depending on the type of internet. For example, Deline has access to a DSL network and gets 15 mbps download speed and one mbps upload speed.

In Yellowknife, residents can get packages with download speeds up to 250 mbps because it's connected through a fibre optic line.

This means residents are getting high speed internet, according to the CRTC's definition.

Some residents in Deline, Colville Lake, and Gameti shared their internet speeds with CBC.

Residents in different communities did speed tests on their internet. In Colville Lake and Gameti, download speeds are available up to 5 mbps at a premium price. The residents surveyed by CBC in those communities are paying for a 2.5 mpbs download speed. (CBC)

Northwestel said if anyone is experiencing internet speeds that are slower than the package they are paying for, they should call the company and they will work to solve the problem.

A spokesperson for the company said it's committed to working with customers to get them the services they are paying for.

There are numerous factors that could influence internet speed including the number of devices using the internet, and how the device is connected to the internet.

'It would just spin and spin and spin'

Kathy Pelletier, a resident in Colville Lake, said she can manage to take online classes with her internet service. She can also use Facetime, although at times it can be quite choppy.

Pelletier pays about $65/month for an internet package that advertises a maximum download speed of 2.5 mbps. The fastest package, at 5 mpbs, costs about $230/month.

But watching TV shows online is an issue. She said she can typically watch a one-hour show every couple of days.

"Everytime I'd pick a show on Netflix it would just spin and spin and spin," said Pelletier. "It just wouldn't stream."

A Colville Lake resident says people bring hard drives with movies to the community because the internet is too slow to use streaming services like Netflix. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

She said a lot of people bring big hard drives full of movies to Colville Lake to avoid having to stream them. 

Pelletier said she doesn't usually bother with streaming or downloading movies anymore, and instead opts for reading, exercising, and taking online courses.

The federal government recently announced that it will be investing over $4.6 million to bring fibre optic infrastructure to Jean Marie River.

 Northwestel is also working toward bringing the communities up to the CRTC's goal of 50 mbps download speed and 10 mbps upload speed.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?