Smaller communities will pay the same as residents in Yellowknife when unlimited internet rolls out in the months ahead, Northwestel’s president says.
Northwestel, the territory’s dominant internet provider, will launch its first-ever unlimited plans for residents on November 2. The first communities to have access will be Yellowknife, Hay River, Norman Wells, and Fort Smith.
Over the following three years, the company is promising to use a range of technology – including a network of low earth orbit satellites – to bring unlimited data to all 33 NWT communities. It has received more than $60 million in federal funding to help pay for that work.
Curtis Shaw, Northwestel’s president, told Cabin Radio unlimited plans will not be more expensive in smaller communities, regardless of the technology needed to hook them up.
“With this project, one of the commitments we have is we’re really going to peg back to Yellowknife pricing,” Shaw said last week.
“The communities that pay a little more for internet today are going to come down to those Yellowknife prices.”
Northwestel has already revealed what those Yellowknife prices will be.
The company’s fastest unlimited plan – with 250 Mbps download speeds – will cost $249.95 per month, with slower options at $199.95 and $160.95.
The price of internet in the North is one of the main sources of complaint from residents who experience a high cost of living across the board, from food to fuel and beyond.
Paying to create new infrastructure and maintain older equipment across the territory’s vast distances is one reason why those charges are so high.
However, that doesn’t soften the blow when customers compare rates available in the south.
For example, Bell – Northwestel’s parent company – offers unlimited plans in some locations that are billed as being up to six times faster than Northwestel’s fastest download speeds, for half the price.
‘Trying to have affordable packages’
Asked if Northwestel envisaged ever offering prices comparable with those available in the south, Shaw said affordability was “top of mind for me and for the team.”
“We’ve done a lot of work to try to keep our costs down to be able to pass on savings to customers,” Shaw said.
“If you look at our internet services in the Northwest Territories, we actually – at the entry level – are trying to have packages that are affordable to the end customer. So we have packages that start at $37. Those are on par, even lower than other providers in Canada.”
On Sunday evening, the cheapest plan available from Northwestel in Yellowknife cost $41.95 per month according to the company’s website. It included 25 GB of data per month and download speeds of five Mbps (excluding one-time installation fees of at least $68.25).
Bell’s cheapest package in southern locations is $49.95 monthly, but includes 100 GB at twice the maximum download speed and a smaller activation fee of $59.95.
Northwestel last week hosted online sessions for residents to give feedback as it prepares to embark on rolling out unlimited internet plans.
Shaw said his company had not increased its rates for seven years, despite increasing cost pressures, and was doing “everything in our power” to keep prices down.
“If you think about all the cost inputs we have as a company – electricity prices, our employees, food, all those types of things in the Northwest Territories continually go up,” he said.
“We’ve really tried to put a cap on residential internet pricing and it hasn’t changed in seven years.”