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Northwestel speeds up internet service

Northwestel is booting up faster, cheaper internet packages on Tuesday. The new deals are largely thanks to the completion of a continuous fibre-optic cable that links the Yukon to southern Canada.

Northwestel is booting up faster, cheaper internet packages on Tuesday.

The new deals are largely thanks to the completion of a continuous fibre-optic cable that links the Yukon to southern Canada.

This internet pipeline was completed in late July at a cost of about $40 million. It eliminates the need to transmit information by microwave radio along 320 kilometres of mountainous terrain between Fort Nelson and Mould Creek, near the Liard Hot Springs, which formed a bottleneck for internet traffic and dragged down connection speeds.

The biggest improvements will be noticed by subscribers to Northwestel’s internet cable services.

Most notably, the top-end service will boast download speeds of up to 16 Mbps, from 10 Mbps, with a usage cap of 60 gigabytes, from 20 gigabytes.

How fast is this? It means that downloading a 2 MB photograph would take just .67 seconds.

A 4 MB song would take 1.3 seconds. A 30-minute TV show would take 1.7 minutes. And a 1.5 GB movie would take 13.2 minutes.

But that’s only if the company manages to provide these advertised speeds to home users. And, currently, that’s a big if.

It’s currently not uncommon for home and business connections to plod along at far below their advertised speeds.

But the reliability of connections should also improve, the company insists, thanks to fixes aimed at another bottleneck in internet traffic.

This one forms as home connections are routed into the main data-pipe. Improved traffic control for busy neighbourhoods, such as Granger and Riverdale, ought to result in more consistent internet speeds.

Northwestel has also cut the pricing of its top cable service to $80, from $90. An additional $10 is lopped off for subscribers who bundle with a cable television package.

The company’s other two cable internet services will also see improvements to download speeds and usage caps, but their pricing remains unchanged.

Lesser improvements are on offer to customers who subscribe to DSL internet service, which is delivered through customers’ phone lines, rather than by cable.

Customers with a mid-range, “Classic” service will see a modest improvement to download speeds, to 2.5 Mbps from 2 Mbps. And users of the low-end “Lite” service will see their usage caps extended to five gigabytes from two gigabytes.

Pricing remains frozen for all three DSL services.

The pricing and speed upgrades make it sweeter for DSL clients, who make up the majority of Northwestel’s internet customers, to shift to cable.

Why? Northwestel answers that the future is in providing internet service by cable, because it avoids the physical constrains of having to transmit information over the relatively-sluggish copper wire used in phone lines.

“It’s limited by just physics,” said Andy Stouffer, Northwestel’s director of marketing.

As well, “it’s more efficient to manage one network, rather than two,” said Stouffer. The company’s decided that single network will one day be cable.

But Northwestel plans to continue maintaining its DSL network, which is currently used by two-thirds of its customer base, said Stouffer.

“We’re still investing in DSL infrastructure and we’ll continue to do so,” he said.

That’s good news for customers who live outside the capital, because only DSL service is currently available in Yukon’s communities.

Neither does the company plan to cancel its Navigo wireless internet service, said Stouffer.

Of course, there’s another motivation for Northwestel to funnel customers away from DSL and into cable services: money.

Cable is more profitable than DSL, because the majority of cable customers end up bundling their internet service with television service.

Even Northwestel’s sweetest deal lags considerably behind what’s on offer in southern Canada, where Shaw Cable offers internet service of a similar speed to Northwestel’s top package for $52 per month, against Northwestel’s price of $80.

But Northwestel also faces far higher operating costs providing internet across Canada’s three territories. And “the gap has continuously narrowed between what’s offered in the South and what’s offered here,” said Stouffer.

Shaw’s service also offers a usage cap of 100 GB, compared to Northwestel’s cap of 60 GB.

Northwestel’s comparatively piddly usage caps are necessary, said Stouffer, because the company is charged by southern internet providers who help relay data downstream.

“The more customers use, the more our costs go up,” said Stouffer.

Northwestel also boasts that small business subscribers will see a monthly price drop of nearly 40 per cent, to $80 from $130.

Meanwhile, the company is quietly discontinuing its “S2.0” fibre-optic connection that is currently used by about 25 businesses that require fast connections.

These customers are being asked to switch to Northwestel’s more modern “I-Enterprise” package, introduced several years ago and used by about 100 customers, because spare parts are no longer produced for the electronics that support the older service.

To make the switch, companies face a hefty $2,500 set-up fee. The fee will only be waived if customers agree to be locked into a three-year contract.

Contact John Thompson at