Remote Communications

Photo Credit ; Clare Kines (@NunavutBirder)

AurorA’s business is wholesale international telecommunications. So why do I have a section on Remote Communications ?

It is a good question. Short answer, sometimes I like to tilt at windmills.

Ever since I began in the telecom industry in 1983 , the lack of telecommunications in remote and rural locations has been an issue. It actually pre-dates me. A quick glance at the Canadian encyclopedia shows that “In the years before 1906 there was much dissatisfaction with rates and with the reluctance of Bell to extend service to less lucrative rural areas.” and this “…Bell Telephone did not interconnect rivals to its local or long-distance network, thereby disadvantaging subscribers to independent companies. Nonetheless the independent telephone industry in Ontario and Québec continued to grow, especially through the period 1906-1920. By 1915 independent telephone companies in Ontario accounted for 79 000 telephones, or one-third of the provincial total.”

There is a long history of independent telcos, sometime co-ops formed by farmers, sometimes municipalities, meeting the needs of their citizens by establishing independent service providers in areas which Big Telecom found “less lucrative”. Funny enough, also a long history of Big Telcom anti-competitive practices which forced the federal government to investigate and then regulate the industry starting with the Railway Act, then the Canadian Transportation Commission and then to the CRTC in 1976.

Here we are in 2020, and there is still a huge need for better communications infrastructure to serve rural and remote areas of Canada. SouthWestern Ontario, where I live, still has an abundance of independent telephone companies, a legacy of those original areas that Bell did not deem lucrative enough to serve. Some of them have started laying fiber in their service areas. Agriculture may seem old fashioned to urban elites, but it is a very high tech undertaking and farmers need access to high speed communications.

Remote areas such as Northern Ontario ( I’m originally from South Porcupine !), Northern Quebec and especially the territories of Nunavut, Yukon and NorthWest Territories are desperately underserved. The population density may be low, but the economic potential of those areas is huge, if they had the tools that modern telecom can provide. This further entered my consciousness when I got to visit Yellowknife in 2018 and have a family member who is a geophysicist doing mineral surveys all over the North.

Heather Hudson, Affiliate Professor with the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage states, “Access to broadband is necessary to participate in the digital economy – for access to services such as online banking, ecommerce, government programs, education and training, telehealth, community and small business entrepreneurship. These services are particularly important for isolated, primarily indigenous communities across the Arctic.” She goes on to say that, “Alaska has 200 villages scattered over more than 663,000 square miles, while in northern Canada, there are a similar number of isolated indigenous communities in the three northern territories and the northern regions of the provinces.”

The Auditor General, in its 2018 Fall Reports to the Parliament of Canada had this to say ; “Many examinations of broadband Internet in Canada have recommended that the federal government create a national broadband strategy, but the government has not agreed to take that step. In fact, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has been reluctant to establish a strategy without funding. So, the Department did not have a strategy to meet the connectivity needs of Canadians in rural and remote areas. This means that people in these areas have less access to important online services, such as education, banking, and health care, and do not have information about when they could expect better access.”

In their audit from 2013 to 2018, the Auditor General showed that the Federal government has failed. “We also concluded that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada did not develop and implement a national strategy to improve broadband Internet connectivity to a specific service level in rural and remote areas.”

In the absence of leadership from the Federal Government we have seen grassroots efforts again, especially from the Indigenous and Inuit organizations and CIRA and the Internet Society to chip away and establish smaller projects. What is needed is a nation-building effort similar to the trans-continental railway or the Trans-Canada Highway that built Southern Canada.

Thus this section is where I monitor and keep track of these efforts. Where I can use my skills and expertise and network, I will offer to help. Whether it is Arctic Fiber Cables, Satellite Services (ranging from LEO to geostationary to Iridium), or to global M2M iOT applications anywhere in the world.

Stay tuned !