Yukoners who live or work remotely could lose internet access by the end of the year as Xplornet ends service on one of its satellites.
A number of rural residents in the territory received notices from Xplornet earlier this month that their satellite internet service would be discontinued by Dec. 31.
“This service is shutting down because the satellite we rely on to provide you service has reached the end of its life and will no longer be available to us,” reads the notice.
The satellite in question is Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite, launched on July 17, 2004 and one of five satellites used by Xplornet to provide service. Although it is reaching the end of its predicted lifespan, the satellite is not actually being decommissioned.
The notice instructs customers to call Xplornet in order to switch to another service, but some remote customers are struggling to find an alternative service.
“Xplornet has little interest in maintaining internet for remote Yukoners,” said Rhonda Rosie, who lives around 130 kilometres north of Watson Lake and is affected by the service notice.
“Some of the people affected are actively seeking other solutions, but so far nothing is for sure. Time is running out,” she said.
Steve Sorochan, the Yukon government’s director of information and communications technology, estimated around 400 to 600 Yukon connections could be affected by the change, including placer miners.
Most will be able to switch providers or service packages, in some cases facing steep cost increases for commercial services, but some will be left with no options. With Xplornet service being ended by Dec. 31, some residents will also face a winter freeze-up that could impact new installations they need to continue service.
Sorochan said because the Anik F2 is not being decommissioned, and is expected to continue operations until 2025, the government has been working with federal partners in lobbying Xplornet to extend service for customers not able to transition.
“The ideal solution, given the timing of things, is that we’d see service extended at least for a year, at least for a construction season so alternates can be found. Ideally, it would continue at least till 2025,” Sorochan said.
Steve Van Groningen, Xplornet’s manager of corporate affairs, said the company decided to end service because capacity on the technology was limited and it is “concerned about the age of the satellite and its future viability.”
“We don’t take this situation lightly. We do understand that there are some customers who are certainly out of service. Situations where we have to end services to customers in rural and remote areas are certainly challenging for us and where we are disappointed that we are in this situation,” Van Groningen said.
Yukoners aren’t the only people affected by the change. Rural residents in parts of Haida Gwaii will also lose service, as well as people living in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern areas of some provinces.
Member of Parliament Larry Bagnell said his office has heard from around a dozen Yukoners about concerns around the cancellation of service.
Bagnell said his office has been in communication with Xplornet and Industry Canada to try and find solutions.
“We contacted Xplornet and they committed to making sure that they would contact every customer and make sure they got clear information on what was happening. My understanding is this is happening. The company is trying to find alternatives if there are any from other providers but if not, then they’re letting the customers know early,” he said.
Universal high-speed internet was a campaign promise for the Liberal government, who set targets of 2026 for 95 per cent of Canadians getting coverage and 2030 for the remainder.
“It won’t be immediately, but in the long run, we’ve committed to making sure everyone in Canada actually has high speed internet service,” said Bagnell, acknowledging that six years is still a long time to wait for those losing service this year.
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