MLA says internet speeds need to increase in communities — especially during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has left more people relying on digital communication for work and entertainment, but in many small northern communities the internet is not much of an option.

In the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn noted there has been discussions of holding committee meetings and sittings of the legislature via teleconference from their home communities.

Norn said that's not possible from Łutsel Kʼe, one of the small remote communities he represents. He said even the simplest digital transactions require patience.

"If you were working for a business or the band in Łutsel Kʼe, you'd have so much trouble downloading a document or trying to communicate with one of us or myself it's really, really hard," said Norn.

The first-term MLA asked the government what it was doing to bring high-speed internet to remote communities that have been largely left out of the digital world.

Sara Minogue/CBC

'Far below the standard'

Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek noted that a year ago the federal government introduced a plan to bridge the so-called digital divide between communities such as Łutsel Kʼe and large urban centres.

The plan is to give every Canadian access to internet speeds of at least 50 megabits per second for downloading (receiving) and 10 megabits per second for uploading (sending).

Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada

Wawzonek said eight N.W.T. communities rely on slow satellite service for internet.

"They are, sadly, stuck at five megabits per second, which is a slow speed. It's far below the standard the federal government is trying to bring all of Canada up to, so there's going to be some significant work there to do."

At that speed it would take roughly eight seconds to download a photo from an iPhone and three and a half minutes to download a one-minute video.

NorthwesTel is waiting to hear back from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on a proposal it submitted last year for funding to bring small communities up to the minimum speeds.

The CRTC has dedicated $750 million over five years to meet the targets. It is expected to make a decision about which projects have been approved later this year.