Residents of Old Crow will have faster Internet as early as 2018, thanks to nearly one million dollars in federal funding.
The upgrade will bring high-speed Internet to 109 homes in Old Crow. It will boost the download speed to five megabits per second, up from a current speed of about two megabits per second.
Five megabits per second is the minimum speed target set out by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in 2011.
The project is part of the government’s Connecting Canadians program, which committed $305 million in 2014 to providing faster Internet in rural and remote communities.
Paul Doehle, information technology director for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, said he’s “looking forward” to the upgrade.
At current Internet speeds, Doehle said it takes several seconds to open a webpage, and streaming audio or video is difficult.
“Rarely can you get through a whole video without it stopping at some point,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what they give us now.”
Doehle said the First Nation might be interested in using cloud computing to manage administrative affairs, if the Internet connection can support it.
He also said more community members, especially young people, might sign up for services like Netflix.
But he also worried about the cost that might accompany a faster connection.
Northwestel did not comment on how service fees for Old Crow residents might be affected in an email response to questions from the News.
The Harper government has committed $929,384 to Northwestel to complete the project.
“As part of the agreement, Northwestel will also be making its own contribution to upgrade services in Old Crow,” according to the email from Northwestel.
Old Crow is the only Yukon community whose Internet is provided by satellite. Northwestel said it will “invest in additional satellite bandwidth” to improve Internet speeds.
The upgrade in Old Crow is the only project proposed for the Yukon under the Connecting Canadians program, though several communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut will also be receiving upgrades.
“It’s really something that we acknowledge absolutely has to be done in the North. They deserve as much access to it as possible and as quickly as possible,” said Yukon MP Ryan Leef.
Leef said most Yukon communities already have Internet speeds of at least 5 megabits per second.
So far, the government has received proposals for projects that would bring high-speed Internet to 356,000 homes across the country. It plans to make high-speed Internet available to 98 per cent of Canadian households by 2017.
But Josh Tabish, campaign manager with Vancouver-based Open Media, said Canada is still far behind other developed countries when it comes to Internet speeds. He said minimum target speeds in the U.S. are five times what they are in Canada, and that most rural regions of the Australian Outback have speeds 20 times faster than Canada’s minimum rate.
“It’s not something that’s been prioritized by the current government,” he said. “Canada shows a really appalling lack of ambition.”
Tabish said 10 per cent of Canadian households still don’t have Internet speeds of 5 megabits per second, though most people in urban centres have access to much higher speeds.
And he warned that the upgrade planned for Old Crow still likely won’t be enough for video conferencing or high-definition video streaming.
Tabish said Internet speed in rural and remote areas is really an issue of equal access to opportunities.
“We don’t think every Canadian needs a Lamborghini in terms of Internet access,” he said. “But they do all need access to the same highway.”
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