Federal government announces $50M for faster Arctic internet

IQALUIT, Nunavut _ The federal government has promised to spend nearly $50 million to improve internet access in Nunavut where some of the poorest and most expensive service in Canada has long been considered an economic drag.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains made the announcement in Iqaluit on Thursday as part of a program to improve access for underserved communities.

The money is to go to Northwestel, a regional service provider. The company is expected to spend another $73 million to build the backbone satellite network needed to make higher-speed internet available in all 25 Nunavut communities.

Everyone from local users to federal committee members have long identified poor internet as a major barrier to northern development.

Earlier this year, a report to then-indigenous and northern affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett found internet access to be a greater concern among northerners than environmental conservation.

In 2016, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board found a lack of reliable access to the internet is one of the factors preventing northern communities from developing sustainable economies.

The Conference Board of Canada has come to similar conclusions, as did a 2011 report to the federal government

Mining companies have had to courier documents to northern regulators because internet connections couldn’t handle the file sizes. An Iqaluit band that recorded a music video to accompany its latest release found they couldn’t upload it.

Many northerners are heavy internet users. Social media such as Facebook help them connect with relatives and friends in distant communities where travel is expensive. Such services are also widely used to trade items such as country foods.