Satellite that provides phone, internet to 8 NWT communities is shutting down

The satellite that 11 remote northern communities rely on for phone and internet services is losing its functionality three years earlier than expected. Northwestel says it's committed to keeping services running in those communities and is working on an alternative strategy. 

Northwestel 'fully committed' to continuing phone and internet services in all impacted communities

David Codzi is the president of the Ayoni Keh Land Corporation and the assistant band manager of Colville Lake. Colville Lake is one of the 11 communities that rely on the Anik F2 for phone and internet services. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The satellite that provides phone and internet services to eight N.W.T. communities is losing its functionality three years earlier than expected.

Northwestel uses that satellite — called the Anik F2 — to provide broadband, wireless mobility and long-distance phone services to Colville Lake, Gamètı̀, Łútselk'e, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Sambaa K'e, Ulukhaktok and Wekweètı.

It also uses the satellite for services to Old Crow in the Yukon, and Fort Ware and Bob Quinn Lake in northern B.C.

Andrew Anderson, Northwestel's director of communications, told CBC during a phone interview that the company "remains fully committed" to each impacted community. 

"We have a team of engineers and technicians who are travelling to each of these 11 communities," he said. He noted all communities have been notified of the satellite's "service degradation." 

While Northwestel uses the satellite, Telesat is the company that operates it. Anderson said Northwestel is working closely with Telesat, local governments and other technology partners to "pursue mitigation strategies" to keep the communities connected to services. 

Andrew Anderson is a spokesperson for Northwestel. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

He said some of those efforts include repointing satellite dishes and working with Telesat to "secure alternate satellite capacity."

Anderson said they are looking "community by community" to determine which solution works best for the different areas. 

"Our commitment to these communities is to do everything we can to continue to provide the reliable service that we do and that's our focus right now," said Anderson when asked about the chances of any of the communities losing services. 

In an email to CBC News earlier this week, Telesat's Marketing and Communication Director Lynette Simmons wrote that Telesat has "extensive mitigation strategies in place to ensure continuity of services" across the North, and that they are "collaborating weekly with regulators and customers on executing those strategies."

Northwestel responsible for solution, says assistant band manager 

David Codzi, the assistant band manager of Colville Lake, said Northwestel informed his community about the satellite about two weeks ago.

"They said we got until about maybe February," said Codzi. 

"So if we don't do nothing this year, then we're gonna lose all our communication." 

Codzi said Northwestel told them about some alternate options, including potentially using one of OneWeb's low earth orbit satellites for services — which, he thinks, could improve service to the community.

He also mentioned Space X's Starlink satellite internet service as a potential option in the future, when it becomes available

According to Codzi, Northwestel has offered to pay for all additional fees that come with finding another option. 

"Northwestel is gonna be the one lining it up because we pay for the service. And they are going to pay for the whole thing because this wasn't our doing. We rely on them," he said. 

Satellite's thrusters failed

Telesat's president and CEO, Dan Goldberg, outlined the issues with the satellite during the company's financial results phone conference in early August. 

He explained that the Anik F2 has been operating in a "workaround mode" for the past year, after two of the thrusters used to control the satellite's position in space failed.

Dan Goldberg is the president and CEO of Telesat. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

"We expected this approach would allow us to provide station-kept service until 2025, but it now appears we can only maintain station-kept services until the end of this year," said Goldberg. 

He said services would be "adversely impacted" as early as next February, and that Telesat's revenues from the Anik F2 will decline if they are unable to find an alternative. 


Emma Grunwald is a reporter with CBC News in Yellowknife.