NWT residents can expect faster internet at better prices in next 3 years: Northwestel president

Curtis Shaw, Northwestel president, attended the meeting from headquarters in Whitehorse.

Curtis Shaw, Northwestel’s president, says every NWT community will have upgraded internet speeds at better prices in the next three years.

During a committee meeting on Wednesday, Shaw presented his company’s plan to improve internet services with the help of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commissionthe broadband fund.

Northwestel will be receiving $62 million for four projects to bring community internet speeds in line with a CRTC decision that sets 50 mbps download and 10 mbps upload as minimum targets.

Most of the improvements will come from replacing old copper wiring with fibre directly to residents’ homes. The eight communities that rely on satellites for their internet will also see improvements with new low-earth-orbit satellites.

Options for unlimited data plans will come with the improvements and at prices, Shaw says, comparable to Yellowknife.

CBC recently reported SSi Canada, a competing internet service provider, criticising Northwestel’s monopoly on fibre backbone. The company says Northwestel charges too much for smaller ISPs to use the infrastructure and offer unlimited data plans at competitive prices. SSi Canada has submitted two applications to the CRTC — the first to make use of the fibre backbone, the second to put a stop to the commission’s approval to allow Northwestel to offer unlimited plans, which it unveiled earlier this month.

Community involvement 

Katrina Nokleby, Great Slave MLA, asked how local companies will be included in the improvement plan. Shaw said contracting companies could be used for maintenance.

Nokleby noted there have been situations that fibre has been installed in risky areas, such as contaminated sites.

“There’s been no coordination, from the look of it, to talk around the routing and for local community knowledge to be factored into that,” she said.

During his presentation, Shaw said Northwestel met with many community leaders before submitting its improvement plan.

He also introduced a new northern community advisory council, with Indigenous representatives from all three territories.

Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge asked Shaw about this possibility during the meeting. Shaw declined to comment, saying the CRTC is best to make the decision.

No more breaks during pandemic

Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, said he was happy to see the communities in his region would have access to unlimited plans by 2023. However, he said with the ongoing pandemic that residents need breaks from surcharges now.

Northwestel waived overage fees at the start of the pandemic, but stopped doing so in June. Instead, the company permanently increased data limits for the majority of customers. But Jacobson said that wasn’t good enough and still heard from residents getting large overage fees. Shaw said the current technology in the region wouldn’t support more usage so Northwestel would not be offering any additional breaks on fees.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.