Fiber optic cable is set to be laid along Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast this year

Coronavirus-related restrictions aren't expected to delay the work.

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The KRG’s plans to deliver higher-speed internet to Nunavik involve a combination of technologies, including fiber optic cable along some Hudson coast communities, a microwave tower link connecting Kuujjuaq to Schefferville, and surplus satellite capacity provided to the remaining communities. (Tamaani via Nunatsiaq News)

Plans to lay fiber optic cable along Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast will go ahead this summer, putting parts of the region on track to receive high-speed internet by next year.

In March, the Kativik Regional Government awarded a contract to Alcatel Submarine Networks, the firm that will install an underwater fiber optic cable from Chisasibi to Puvirnituq, with branches off into Kuujjuaraapik, Umiujaq and Inukjuak along the way.

The KRG’s administration department told regional council meetings on May 25 that COVID-19 restrictions are not expected to delay that work.

“We expect [the network] will be ready and in service by December 2021,” department director Daryl Combden told the meeting, hosted this week from Kuujjuaq via videoconference.

The KRG’s internet provider, Tamaani, is planning to boost bandwidth across Nunavik starting next year, though only some communities will get fiber optic at first.

The region’s largest community, Kuujjuaq, will be connected by five new microwave towers to Schefferville, where the Naskapi First Nation is finalizing the installation of its own fiber optic network to southern Quebec. Pending a funding application to the CRTC, that link could be upgraded to terrestrial fiber.

Nunavik’s remaining communities will get surplus satellite capacity until the time when the region can extend fiber optic to all 14 villages.

That could happen sooner than later — the KRG has applied to the CRTC for funds to extend that fiber network from Puvirnituq through to Salluit, a project that would cost about $50 million.

Glencore and Canadian Royalties have both expressed interest in having their Raglan mine and Nunavik Nickel mine, respectively, connect to that fiber optic network, Combden said, and both would contribute financially — enough to possibly extend the link to Kangiqsujuaq on Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast.

Combden said the KRG is also in preliminary discussions with the Government of Nunavut to connect Iqaluit to Kuujjuaq by fiber optic cable, which offers the possibility of eventually branching that network into the remaining Ungava Bay communities.

The regional government says it hopes to connect the entire region to a fiber optic network by 2025.

Can we buy more capacity?

Some Nunavik residents say that extra bandwidth is urgently needed now, while people are working from home and videoconferencing more than ever.

“We can’t really work when our internet is so slow,” said Jennifer Hunter, a regional councillor for Kuujjuaraapik. “Can we buy more bandwidth capacity?”

Satellite capacity is capped right now in the region, Combden said.

Tamaani was able to purchase additional capacity for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services in Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq over a six-month period to accommodate their increased usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained, but only because it had the option to switch to a Telesat satellite in those two communities.

“So you won’t see a difference until we get that fiber in the water,” he told Hunter, whose home community of Kuujjaraapik will be the first one connected to the new fiber network.

Tamaani is still working to install fibre-to-the-home to nine more Nunavik communities —  technology that helps reduce internet traffic by linking a community’s buildings together with a network of fiber optic cable. That work has been delayed due to the travel restrictions currently in place in Nunavik.