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Letters: A look at Interet services and fires

To: Honorable Pablo Rodriguez, Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, Minister Responsible for the CRTC
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To: Honorable Pablo Rodriguez, Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, Minister Responsible for the CRTC

Dear Minister Rodriguez,

My name is Jordan Aslett, I live in a small rural Yukon community called Mendenhall. We have about 100 residents and our community is 75 kilometres from the nearest town. Mendenhall has no store, no post office, nor any other services. What we do have are resilient, hard-working, and resourceful people — from young families to old-time Yukoners and everyone in between.

On July 6, during a heat wave, our entire community was suddenly left without internet or phone services. This is common in our area, and usually lasts no more than a couple of hours. However, by the next morning we were still without phone service or internet. For people who work from home, or our many residents who rely on landlines to communicate with the Outside, this was more than an inconvenience, it meant a day without pay or a day of isolation.

On July 8 we spoke with our service provider Northwestel (who have a monopoly in the North), and we were informed that services had been ‘shut down’ due to the heat wave, with no estimate of when they would be restored. On July 9 we spoke with them again with no further information forthcoming.

To make matters worse, on July 7 a wildfire broke out about 25 kilometres east of our community. As of today, it is more than 1,000 hectares in size and continues to spread. Many in our community cannot communicate with others about the fire or receive reliable information about evacuation alerts or safety planning. What’s more is that many of our residents are either older adults, or young children who are at a much higher risk of adverse effects of smoke and heat. Not having the ability to contact emergency services or community health providers means that they are at a significantly increased health risk.

It is now July 12, and there is still no word on when our services will be restored. I have spoken to representatives at Northwestel every day since the outage informing them of the risk they are putting us through by leaving us without access to telecommunications. Support staff at Northwestel have at best been overly optimistic, and at worst have been aloof, confused, uninformed and unreliable. Currently there is also a phone and internet outage in other communities across the north. I am sure that if we lived in a southern province, or even in a larger northern city like Whitehorse or Yellowknife, these issues would have been resolved within 24 hours.

I am writing to express my grave concern about the level of service from Northwestel. Not only are they displaying serious technical ineptitude, but they are also demonstrating a total unwillingness to communicate openly with our community and give us an honest assessment of the situation. As minister responsible for the CRTC I do hope you take into consideration their behaviour and lack of capacity when it comes time to assess Northwestel’s ability to serve our northern communities.

Thank you,

Jordan Aslett,

President, Mendenhall Community Association

Whitehorse community, it is time to wake up!

Every time that I drive into Whitehorse from Carcross I’m struck by the density of the forest south of town. It is primed for a major fire catastrophe. The forest is thick and ready to go up in smoke at the first hint of a lightning strike or accident. If a fire gets going and there is a wind out of the south, we are looking at another Fort McMurray scenario. In fact, I would suggest that the burn could make the Fort McMurray burn look like a good day at the office.

Politicians (of all stripes) have been made aware of this for many years but their politically-motivated agendas are more important, it would seem, then doing what is necessary.

Are we ready for what is most assuredly coming? I don’t think so.

Butch Johnson

Carcross



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