Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Statement – Qiniq and Nunavut Broadband Creation

September 26, 2011

Honourable Senators, as you know, Nunavut is by far Canada’s largest jurisdiction. It also Canada’s most isolated jurisdiction. The 30,000 people of Nunavut live in 25 remote communities with no roads linking them together. But we now have an information highway connecting the people of Nunavut with each other and with the world.

This is the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, a non profit corporation whose mandate, simply, is to ensure that the people of Nunavut have reliable, affordable access to broadband Internet services in all of Nunavut’s communities, including Grise Fiord, Canada’s most northern settlement, at  77 degrees North latitude – about 1500 kilometres from the North Pole.

Nunavut will benefit from broadband enhancements more than any other jurisdiction in Canada. NBDC was founded in 2002 and based is in Iqaluit.

Until the Nunavut Broadband Corporation was founded in 2002, only  a handful of organizations in a few communities had access to dialup, which was painfully slow and expensive. As a result, the initial goal was to establish an affordable public network available in every community by 2005. The corporation secured investment from Industry Canada, and the QINIQ network was launched.

QINIQ’s growth has been impressive, with about 4800 subscribers today, who pay $60.00 per month. These subscribers represent 50% of all households and corporate buildings in Nunavut. By 2012 there will be an anticipated 7000 subscribers, and the corporation has taken steps to ensure that there is enough bandwidth capacity to support this.

This growth over the past 5 years reflects the fact that QINIQ is good for economic development – it has created local jobs by allowing entrepreneurs in all 25 communities to become community service providers, each one receiving training and earning commissions on their QINIQ accounts. Currently, over $850,000 in annual revenue is generated in remote communities from these commissions.

Very importantly, over a very short time, people have adopted broadband as an essential service for work, to conduct business, to get news, to bank online, to order or market products and services, to obtain and submit government information and to communicate with family and friends.

In response to the challenges of growth NBDC began the second major project: Infrastructure Phase II.By early 2008, community consultations and surveys revealted the needs of broadband users in Nunavut. A 5-year business plan was laid detailing a way forward to meet those needs. This was submitted as a detailed proposal to Infrastructure Canada.

In August 2008, Infrastructure Canada announced that they would invest $21 million in network upgrades, additional satellite capacity and some essential new bandwidth management tools. The $21 million will be matched by funds from other sources, mostly the private sector in a true Public-Private Partnership, meaning that by June 2012 over 42 million dollars of new money will have gone into serving the broadband needs of Nunavut.

By December, 2009, the QINIQ network was upgraded. This has meant that users can move more data because bandwidth lanes were widened, and there are now fewer outages because the system is more efficient. It means noticeable improvements in speed, especially during busy hours. Exciting new broadband services such as videoconferencing and the ability to move large data files will be announced this month. This will positively affect the delivery of education and health services, key elements in the recent Government of Nunavut Report Card recommendations.

I am especially encouraged about one potential application. There is now a plan afoot, which I enthusiastically support, to enhance the fledgling University of the Arctic. With support from federal departments led by Indian and Northern Affairs, three territorial colleges in Nunavut, NWT and Nunavut plan to expand opportunities for university-level education across the north…not based on bricks and mortar, but byu creating a cyber university.  The ability of the Qiniq network to provide videoconferencing and other communications will be an ideal vehicle for making university courses accessible to students in even the most remote locations.

I want to emphasize that all communities in Nunavut are satellite dependant and that satellite bandwidth is extremely expensive. That is the #1 challenge. It must be subsidized by federal funds because speeds are slow compared to fibre optics cables now widespread in the south. Broadband service in the south on cable and phone lines is much faster and costs less than 5% of service in Nunavut. Of course because it is fast and cheap, all kinds of new applications such as Skype and YouTube are developed to meet users’ needs –  which then raise expectations for users in Nunavut.

In closing, I wish to note an important and looming reality.  On July 1, 2012, the Infrastructure Fund for bandwidth support will be finished. Honourable Senators, I believe that broadband capacity in a territory without any roads – a communications highway connecting to southern Canada and the world –  is as high a priority as housing, water, ports and airports.

The World Bank recently conducted a study linking access to broadband in emerging economies to economic development. Every 10 percent increase in capacity led to a 1.3 percent increase in GDP. Broadband has been described by the Conference Board of Canada, in its in depth study of the Nunavut economy as having “the capacity to transform Nunavut’s economy.” When the QINIQnetwork was launched, the investment to bring broadband infrastructure to every community was described as the greatest infrastructure breakthrough in the territory’s history.

Honourable Senators, in the north, “connectivity” is not a luxury, it is a lifeline – an opportunity to bridge north south economic inequities. Connectivity is as vital to economic and social development in Arctic regions as the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Trans Canada Highway and Trans Canada Pipeline have been for southern Canada.

In keeping with one of the four pillars of our Government’s Northern Strategy – social and economic development – it is vital that there be a continued investment to offset the high cost of satellite bandwidth. The people of Nunavut are anxious to become more self reliant by educating our growing population of young people, developing and marketing businesses, and through effective communications and public services taken for granted in most parts of Canada.