Northwestel is being granted over $62 million in funding to improve broadband internet service in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon – part of its plan to offer unlimited data to northern residents.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced the first five projects that will receive a total of $72 million from its Broadband Fund. It said these projects will improve internet service for more than 10,000 households in 51 communities – many of which are Indigenous – in the two territories and northern Manitoba.
“The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the critical need for reliable communications networks to navigate everyday life, as many Canadians were challenged by poor internet connections,” Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC was quoted as saying. “Today’s announcement marks a key milestone toward closing the digital divide.”
Northwestel has been granted funding for four projects – one satellite and one fibre in both the NWT and the Yukon. It will get $4.1 million to improve local access infrastructure and satellite capacity in eight NWT communities, $16.8 million to improve internet access and transport infrastructure in 18 NWT communities, $2.86 million for its satellite project in Old Crow, Yukon, and $38.6 million for its fibre project in 19 Yukon communities.
Northwestel said these projects will allow it to provide speeds of 50 mbps for downloads and 10 mbps for uploads, and unlimited data for almost 26 per cent of households in the NWT and the Yukon.
Northwestel’s proposal includes installing 316 km of fibre lines in the territories, using Telesat’s low-Earth orbit satellites in some communities, and upgrading its hybrid-fibre coax broadband network. In July, Northwestel told Cabin Radio it plans to deliver improved service across the North over three years.
The CRTC said before Northwestel receives the funding, it must complete a statement of work setting out the details of each of its projects, including schedules and costs, which must be approved by the CRTC.
Construction on the projects is expected to start in the spring of 2021. Once completed, Northwestel must offer internet services at prices no higher than those in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
The CRTC is also funding a project for five satellite-dependent communities in northern Manitoba. Residents there will have access to internet speeds of 10 mbps for downloads and 1 mbps for uploads along with unlimited data.
The CRTC is still evaluating other applicants to the Broadband Fund, including projects in Nunavut, for its second round of funding. It said applications are evaluated based on their technical merit, financial viability, level of community consultation and involvement, and the amount of funding from other services.
The CRTC Broadband Fund will provide up to $750 million over five years to projects that improve broadband internet access services in underserved communities in Canada.
It has a universal service objective that all Canadians have access to at least 50 mbps download speeds and 10 mbps upload speed, along with an unlimited data option. In 2019, 42 percent of rural households in Canada had access to those services.
The CRTC expects that fixed broadband internet access will be available to 90 percent of Canadian households and businesses by the end of 2021.