Xplornet has reversed its decision to cut off rural Yukon customers from satellite internet access in December.
In August the company informed many remote clients that their service would end this calendar year, leaving many businesses and individuals without alternatives. On Nov. 3 the company released a memo that existing customers on the Anik F2 satellite would see service extended past the Dec. 31 cut-off date.
“We feel pleased that there is some movement, but we’re also very nervous that it just says it’s going to be extended. So will that be for two hours? Will that be for a year? We have no idea,” said Louise Dumayne, one of the 400 to 600 estimated Yukon connections that could be affected by the change.
As a couple living remotely, without an access road, Dumayne said she and her partner weren’t sure when they moved if the internet would be an option in their home downriver from Dawson City. Now she relies on it to connect with her aging parents in England, and her partner uses it to run his consulting business.
“So to lose it now having had it, at a point when the whole world, thanks to the virus, is going online, it felt pretty cruel. It felt like a real blow,” Dumayne said.
Xplornet told customers via email that Telesat’s Anik F2 satellite, launched on July 17, 2004, was shutting down and internet service would end.
Although the satellite is reaching the end of its predicted lifespan, the message that it was being decommissioned by Telesat was false. It will continue operating until 2025.
“I urged them in writing to please tighten up their communication for their customer base, because there were a lot of people who depended on this very essential service that this national company was providing,” said Yukon Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn.
The memo from Xplornet notes that customers would be notified by email Nov. 4. KA2 beams 001 to 005 would have their existing internet service extended, while beams 009, 010 and 011 will remain operational but with reduced capacity, according to the company.
“It’s a really good day for the territory and a lot of people who were caught flat-footed and had a lot of uncertainty going into the next year. I mean, we’re in a global pandemic. Businesses are already suffering. And then on the eve of a Yukon winter they were told, ‘You’re out of luck.’ Now that hasn’t happened,” Mostyn said Nov. 4.
The decision came after pressure from Yukon customers, the federal government, Yukon government, local businesses and opposition parties. Industries like placer mining also rely on the service.
Mostyn confirmed that neither the federal government nor the territorial government offered Xplornet money as part of an incentive to extend service, but instead the decision came down to negotiations between Telesat and Xplornet.
“I am pleased to share that these two companies have come to an agreement,” said MP Larry Bagnell.
Bagnell said he was in communication with Minister Navdeep Bains and Minister Maryam Monsef about advocating for an extension. He credited the federal government, territorial government and the individuals who came forward with their concerns.
Xplornet has not confirmed how long the extension will last, but Mostyn said in conversations with the company they have discussed an extension of two years.
“I’m hoping that that service extension is as long as possible. What I’m looking for is a time for residents, for businesses and for tourism operators to find alternate service providers,” Mostyn said.
“In our conversations, Xplornet has stressed this is not a long-term solution,” he said.
Dumayne said they have tried to find a replacement for the service, but so far, the only option would be a commercial setup that could cost 10 to 15 times the cost of their current package. It would also require new equipment, which wouldn’t be able to be brought in through the winter.
“We’re in the Yukon winter, and we’re completely cut off here. We live in the bush, we can’t go anywhere. If they decide the extension is just for two weeks, we’re still stuck. We don’t have any alternative right now,” Dumayne said.
“I’d like to celebrate, but at the minute, I don’t really trust them,” she said.
On Nov. 4 Mostyn speculated about new technologies and providers that may be able to fill the gap by the time Xplornet abandons the Anik F2. Among them, he said other service providers could expand into the areas like Total North Communications Ltd., Northwestel and Elon Musk’s Starlink project.
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