Internet improvements needed but costly: report

The report, Northern Connectivity: Ensuring Quality Communications, was completed by a pan-territorial group led by Yukon’s Economic Development Department.

Without better Internet connectivity, the North will suffer.

That’s according to a pan-territorial report released last week.

The report, Northern Connectivity: Ensuring Quality Communications, was completed by a pan-territorial group led by Yukon’s Economic Development Department.

“In the Canadian Arctic, accessible, reliable and affordable communication services are seen as a foundation for northerners to meet many of the socio-economic challenges they face, enabled by networks capable of handling 21st century applications,” the report says. 

“There is much documented evidence showing the telecommunications infrastructure serving Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut has not kept pace with services available in many large Canadian cities.”

The report predicts that if things are not changed, things could get worse.

“Without a dedicated strategy to address the communications infrastructure deficit, the residents of the North are in danger of being left behind even as their territories lead Canada in

GDP growth through increased development – development that benefits Canada, but may not benefit northerners without strategic investments in the communications infrastructure.”

The report recommends that transfer speeds be improved to a minimum average target of 9 Mbps for downloads and 1.5 Mbps for uploads.

“This target should be achieved by 2019 in order to meet projected consumer, business and government needs, while recognizing the constraints posed by the backbone infrastructure.”

According to the Yukon’s Economic Development Department, the only communities in Whitehorse that meet those standards currently are Whitehorse and Carcross.

But the cost of doing that is not cheap.

The report looks at costs as well as what kind of government subsidy “may be required to provide an operator with a reasonable business case for deploying and providing affordable service.”

If you combine the three territories, the costs for a network upgrade range from $622.68 million to $2.2 billion, depending on which option is chosen.

When it comes to who will pay for these upgrades, the report notes that financial resources inside the territories would not likely be enough to pay for the recommended network upgrades.  “Some outside funding of an initial capital investment would be necessary,” it says.

In countries like Australia, the U.S. and the U.K., where broadband expansion has been successful, that money usually comes from the federal government.

Improvements to reliability, availability and service quality are also recommended.

Improvements to the Internet would spur economic growth, create jobs and produce consumer savings, the report says.

“Without improved broadband connectivity in the North, the three territories may lose potential growth and their ranking relative to other economies worldwide that are experiencing these positive impacts,” the report says.

“As a result, the North might lose its competitive advantage in the global market, experience losses in jobs (migration of workers) and a decrease in quality of life.”

Better broadband connectivity would make rural communities more attractive to businesses.

“As reports from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board conclude, current infrastructure deficits are serious impediments to economic activity, adding to the costs of doing business and increasing the logistical challenges to development in the area,” the report says.

It also notes that better Internet means better education opportunities.

It even goes as far as suggesting that better Internet would mean better healthcare.

“Average per capita healthcare expenditure (2012 estimates) are much higher in the territories: Yukon ($8,916), Northwest Territories ($9,853) and Nunavut ($13,250) than the Canadian average $5,948. Similarly, the portion of GDP spent on healthcare is higher in the territories,” it says. 

“Broadband connectivity – when combined with e-health technology – can play a large role in bringing these costs down for the territories and closer to the national average.”

First responders in emergencies also need fast, reliable communications to be effective, the report says.

No official for NorthwesTel was available for an interview in time for today’s deadline. In a written statement, company spokesperson Eric Clements said: “ The report raises many valid points about connectivity in the North.

“NorthwesTel has taken steps to address a large majority of them. In 2013, Northwestel’s $233 million modernization plan proposed a comprehensive strategy to address many concerns around speed and transport. Last year, we began implementing that plan and have proven our commitment to providing broadband speed that is faster than the minimum target set by the CRTC and NCIS report.

Over the next several years, NorthwesTel will continue to roll out high-speed packages across the North, which will further enable programs such as tele-health and e-learning.”

The entire 156-page report is available online at www.northernconnectivity.ca.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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