Hundreds of rural Yukoners are about to lose the internet, as the federal government simultaneously spends millions bringing other areas up to high speed.
Neil Fletcher is pleading for governments to work with the internet service provider Xplornet to “keep us connected” to the internet given the lack of options.
“We’re not asking for the moon on a stick,” he said by phone via Skype on June 28.
“Please don’t turn us off, because there is no alternative.”
In a June 9 notice sent to some customers and provided to the News, Xplornet said it is ending internet services on Dec. 31.
“You are currently receiving internet service from a satellite network that will soon no longer be supported,” reads the notice.
The notice poses two options for customers: no installation charges to switch over to alternate Xplornet services or assistance identifying other service providers in the area.
The Yukon government told the News an estimated 290 Yukon customers will be affected, although that doesn’t capture the actual number of people who rely on it.
Fletcher and his wife rely on that service for work and life purposes. He lives off-grid and off-road in a log cabin on the banks of the Yukon River approximately 70 kilometres downstream of Dawson City. For him, there is no cellular service and no telephone landlines to stay connected.
As a small business owner and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Development Corporation Board member, Fletcher said he depends on the internet for making calls and filing reports, as well as for banking, obtaining medical services and communicating with his family and friends.
“The crazy thing is there is no real reason why Xplornet could not continue this service, and this is the crux of the issue here,” Fletcher said.
“The thing for us is we need to get this resolved — and quickly.”
Meanwhile, the federal government announced June 2 that “every home” in Prince Edward Island will get connected to high-speed internet, thanks to a federal-provincial partnership to the tune of $20 million.
On June 3, the federal government pledged $55 million to high-speed internet for nearly 11,000 households in New Brunswick.
The federal and Alberta governments announced June 20 nearly $500,000 would be put toward getting high-speed internet to 280 households in West Bragg Creek, Alta.
The governments of Canada and Quebec announced June 17 they have invested more than $1.1 million to bring high-speed internet to 1,171 rural Quebec households.
As for the Yukon, Fletcher said the difference between having a slow internet connection like he has now and having no internet connection is “life changing” for him.
“It seems unfair,” he said.
In a statement, a company representative said by email June 29 the service is ending because the ground station equipment has outlived its expected lifespan and cannot be replaced or upgraded.
The representative explained that Xplornet announced two years ago that service for a “small number” of customers would end on Dec. 31, 2020. That decision was reversed at the time and service was extended an additional two years in order to better serve customers and give them ample time to find alternate options, the representative said.
The company said nearly half of affected customers in the territory will have alternate solutions.
“We have started to remind remaining customers of this change so that they can explore other service options well in advance of the winter freeze,” reads the statement.
Luka Vujic, press secretary for Minister of Rural Economic Development Gudie Hutchings’s office, said in a June 29 statement the federal government “understands that access to high-speed internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
“We are working closely with our partners to resolve this issue,” Vujic said.
Vujic said the federal and territorial governments are trying to avoid any disruption in service for Yukoners.
“All options are on the table to find a quick resolution and ensure Yukoners don’t get left behind.”
The statement indicates the feds have spent more than $58 million on connectivity projects in the Yukon since 2015.
Krysten Johnson, who works in communications for the Yukon’s department of Highways and Public Works, acknowledged by email June 28 that while “managing, regulating and providing satellite services ultimately rests with the Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon understands the importance of connectivity across rural Yukon and continues to advocate for Yukoners as best we can.”
“While we were advised that Starlink would be available for Yukoners this year, it is now our understanding that the availability of Starlink to the Far North has been delayed until sometime in 2023,” reads Johnson’s statement.
The statement indicates Minister Nils Clarke has “re-engaged” with his federal counterpart in Innovation, Science and Economic Development to express his concerns about services ending given the limited alternatives available.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org