🇨🇦 Tamaani fibre optic rollout to continue in Nunavik this year

By Jeff Pelletier, Nunatsiaq News - March 1, 2023

Underwater cable needed in long term as some home internet users switch to Starlink, KRG council hears

An orange buoy line marks where crews were laying a fibre optic cable from Hudson Bay to the Nunavik village of Umiujaq in this 2021 file photo (📸: KRG via Nunatsiaq News)

By Jeff Pelletier, Nunatsiaq News

TAMAANI INTERNET IS set to extend its underwater fibre-optic cable network to three Nunavik communities this year, even as some internet users in the region have switched to Starlink to get faster internet speeds.

Daryl Combden, the director of Kativik Regional Government’s administration department, provided an update on internet services to the February regional council meeting on 22 February.

He said Tamaani, which is operated by KRG, welcomes Starlink in the region, especially in communities not yet connected to the new fibre-optic network.

Starlink, the satellite internet service offered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, provides users faster speeds than what Tamaani can currently provide in some communities, Mr Combden said.

However, a region-wide fibre-optic rollout is needed for the long-term in Nunavik, he said.

“Any bandwidth is good; Tamaani could not provide the low-latency, high-capacity bandwidth that SpaceX is providing,” Mr Combden said in an interview following the meeting.

“It has improved the internet capability way beyond what Tamaani could offer on our existing satellite network, but fiber optic technology is still the best way to go.

“It’s still the only technology that will allow us to bring tele-health, tele-education and tele-justice to the region.”

Mr Combden said Starlink’s home internet service has had a major impact in people’s lives, allowing them to stream movies and TV, participate in video calls and play on-line games at fast speeds.

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He said the new fibre-optic service will be designed to allow community health centres to perform live medical imaging on patients while connected to a doctor in the south.

Nunavik’s four south-westernmost communities — Kuujjuaraapik, Umiujaq, Inukjuak and Puvirnituq — are the first to be connected to the fibre-optic network.

The plan this year, once sea waters are accessible by boat, is to connect the next three communities, according to Mr Combden: Akulivik, Ivujivik and Salluit.

“The cable and all components are ready to be deployed, we have a vessel contracted, we did find a suitable reputable vendor able to do the work,” he said.

“That’s good news for the Hudson coast.”

KRG is also looking to extend the cable to Kangiqsujuaq, but is awaiting the necessary procurement to get the job done.

Eventually, the goal is to get the fibre optic network connected to all Nunavik communities, but that will require more funding from higher levels of government and will take time.

“We’ve done the marine survey in Ungava Bay, we know where an eventual fibre optic route will go,” Combden said.

“We’re applying for funding on that portion and we’re looking forward to positive relations with our federal and provincial counterparts.”

In the meeting with KRG councillors, Mr Combden was told about customer-service issues people are experiencing, including a lack of answers on Tamaani’s customer-service phone line.

He said there are many vacant jobs on the customer-service line, and that the company is having trouble hiring and retaining workers.

“When the limited number of staff we have working are on the phone with another customer, well, then the person calling never gets an answer, so it comes down to employee recruitment,” he said.

Another issue involves customers having their internet cut off when they miss payments on their bills.

Mr Combden said Tamaani offers a three-month grace period and partial payment plans, but communicating that with customers is challenging when the call centre is understaffed.

“We have to educate our customers on how to ensure they pay ahead of the cut-off dates, how to keep up with their payments to avoid having the call in the first place,” he said.

“We are as fully flexible as we can be, but at the same time the customer has to take some responsibility and understand that they have to make the effort to pay on time.”

Nunatsiaq News is the newspaper of record for Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec. It has been published since 1973 and reaches 50,000 readers in 39 eastern Arctic communities each week through its website and weekly e-editions. Its editorial team offers credible, in-depth, award-winning journalism, drawing readers from northern and southern Canada and around the world. Nunatsiaq News is owned by Nortext Publishing Corp., which maintains offices in Iqaluit and Ottawa.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

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