Nunavut phone, internet blackout prompts review

The Government of Nunavut and Northwestel are looking for ways to prevent another communications disruption like the one that cut off long-distance phone and internet service for about 12 hours Thursday.
Long distance phone, cellphone and internet service was disrupted for 12 hours Thursday in 39 communities across the north when a satellite malfunctioned. (CBC)

Officials in Nunavut will meet next week to talk about Thursday’s satellite service interruption and how better prepare in case it happens again.

A technical problem with Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite cut off long-distance phone and internet service to all of Nunavut and some communities in the N.W.T. and Yukon for about 12 hours Thursday, starting at 6:36 a.m. ET.

It also resulted in planes being grounded in Nunavut, as weather information could not be communicated between communities. First Air said 48 flights and about 1,000 passengers were affected. Extra flights were added Friday to get passengers to their destinations.

Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern was stranded in Ottawa Thursday when flights were grounded in Nunavut due to a satellite malfunction cutting off communication between communities. She says the North needs more reliable technology. (CBC)

Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern was one of those passengers stuck in Ottawa and she said it's time to do something about the technologically-disadvantaged North.

"Communications, in this day and age, is an essential service," she said. "It's not just a question of being able to check in with family and friends. It’s part of business. It's also part of emergency response systems."

The RCMP lost contact with its Nunavut detachments, but used CBC radio to ask them to call headquarters with satellite phones.

"We are not looking at changing anything in particular right now, other than we are trying to beef up our sat phones, [and] get more, better technology out to the guys in the communities so they can make contact with us in the event that this happens again," said Sgt. Kevin Lewis of Nunavut RCMP.

Northwestel said it would also be holding meetings to look at how data could be transferred to another satellite if this ever happens again.

All of the company's data transmission for Nunavut goes through the Anik F2.