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Internet and telecom in Northern Canada: Driver’s-licence pictures crash the network
September 8, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Internet and telecom infrastructure in northern Canada is so bad it threatens the whole region. That’s the conclusion from a new report cited in a Globe and Mail article, which notes: “The government of Nunavut bought new digital cameras to produce photos for driver’s licences. But the photo files were too large for local E-mail systems and so must be loaded onto memory sticks and flown to Iqaluit for processing.”

The report (in Chapter 4 [PDF]) notes that monthly Internet costs vary from $41.95/month for 0.384 Mbps and a 5GB data cap to (using another technology) $399.99/month for 1.5Mbps with a 20GB cap. One ISP, NorthwesTel, lists $119.95/month for unexceptional DSL service in Iqualuit, for example.

That's one reason CBC's Spark podcast offers a low-bandwidth version (related episode).
posted by joeclark (78 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Me thinks they don't know how to resize a photo in Nunavut.
posted by Gungho at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


photo files were too large for local E-mail systems

A driver's license photo is what, an inch square? If my math isn't totally off, that means at photo resolution (300 dpi) it would be 300x300 = 90 kb. What e-mail system can't handle a 90 kb attachment?

Wonder if the more pressing issue was getting the files compressed from the default size (say 8 megapixels) down to email size. I have to imagine that would have been easier than flying thumbdrives around the country.
posted by mark7570 at 1:29 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine there's even a road worthy of requiring a drivers license outside of Iqualuit.
posted by crapmatic at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Canada must send pictures the same way my mom does.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2011 [20 favorites]


I believe that the systems keep larger photos on file for your license.

But probably the kind of system where people are "routinely unable to connect to their server and have to use satellite phones to [ask someone else to] look up needed information" would have trouble even with small attachments.
posted by jeather at 1:37 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is really shocking. Telecommuting would be one way around the high cost of doing any kind of business in the north and apparently that's currently impossible. It's not like remote northern communities don't need the jobs.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:49 PM on September 8, 2011


Keep in mind that Nunavut has a total population of 33,000 and is approximately the size of Alaska and Texas combined. That a pretty low density of people, I'm not sure what they expect for prices.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:55 PM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


This isn't a problem that's limited to Nunavut (although the scale of the problem is more apparent there). In British Columbia, the major ISP (Telus) refuses to implement "last mile" broadband in remote communities because there is no ROI. This affects about 5% of communities in BC, and while it may seem like a small number it has significant implications for economic development and opportunities for economic development.

How could this problem even be fixed in Nunavut?

Also, if you're creating photo IDs, you kind of need to have a high-resolution image archived somewhere, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least this puts the appalling service standards and prices that I get in northern Alberta into context.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:01 PM on September 8, 2011


Oh, but they get a huge tax cut on the money they're not earning for being up north!
posted by GuyZero at 2:04 PM on September 8, 2011


Paging ODiV....
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2011


Gungho writes "Me thinks they don't know how to resize a photo in Nunavut."

The goverment probably wants to maintain the full resolution; I know I would.

crapmatic writes "I can't imagine there's even a road worthy of requiring a drivers license outside of Iqualuit."

Lots of roads in the north, especially in the winter when everything freezes over. Besides people from Nunavet have need for picture government IDs same as anyone else and they do travel to other parts of the country during which they'll need their driver's licences.
posted by Mitheral at 2:21 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm in canada for a year or two, and might have to consider making a trip to Alert some time... It's like the Patagonia of the North!
posted by kaibutsu at 2:21 PM on September 8, 2011


You don't even have to go that far north. There are parts of SW Ontario -- a couple of hours from Toronto --for which dialup is the only option, as the local telco has decided that rolling out DSL even for the local towns isn't worth it. Rural wireless is getting big - where long distance comms is done using point-to-point MW links in the unlicensed 6GHZ band, and then local connections are made at a common repeater, usually on a tall structure like a grain silo. These result in ~500kbps connections at reasonable cost - but since the MW links aren't mapped and registered by Industry Canada, anyone building a tall thing in the way suddenly cuts off local internet access to hundreds of people ...

(and as someone who routinely builds tall things in rural areas, this can be a problem)
posted by scruss at 2:24 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Umm, satellite connections, anyone?

You're moving files, not playing Team Fortress.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mobile broadband is the way to go for internet in a lot of the developing world; just build cell phone towers and you don't have to lay down all that wire...
posted by kaibutsu at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2011


This isn't a problem that's limited to Nunavut (although the scale of the problem is more apparent there). In British Columbia, the major ISP (Telus) refuses to implement "last mile" broadband in remote communities because there is no ROI. This affects about 5% of communities in BC, and while it may seem like a small number it has significant implications for economic development and opportunities for economic development.

Perhaps some enterprising person could look into some of the solutions emerging for rural Africa to cost affordably address this challenge?

What is cellular coverage like in these areas?
posted by infini at 2:33 PM on September 8, 2011


I'm not certain the civilians, or better put, the general public can get to Alert. It's mostly a weather station and CFB signals station. Grise Ford is probably the most northerly town, but the furthest north you can go is Quttinirpaaq National Park. Last time I checked, a few years ago, single person transit was more than $6000 per person from Edmonton.
posted by bonehead at 2:36 PM on September 8, 2011


Mobile broadband is the way to go for internet in a lot of the developing world; just build cell phone towers and you don't have to lay down all that wire...

What is cellular coverage like in these areas?

How do you think signals get from one cell tower to the other?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 2:39 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Grise Ford is probably the most northerly town,

Grise Fiord. I have never been to Nunavut, but I like very much that that according to Wikipedia, Grise Fiord has 141 people while Ellesmere Island as a whole has 146. I sometimes wonder as to those other five in the 200,000 or so sq. km. Are they all together? Are they spread out? (NB: For Americans to get their heads around this, this would mean each of these five people would have an area slightly larger than Indiana to move around in.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:44 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry, mixing up square miles and square km. Each of these five would have an area smaller than Kentucky. Ooopsie!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:47 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A consequence of a monopolised telecoms sector which puts private profit before public interest. Canada has significant challenges in delivering comms services with vast areas of low population density, so solutions require a level of deep thinking which is beyond the ken of the average neo-Harperite carbon-based unit. Welcome to our world.
posted by aeshnid at 2:55 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, in fairness, it's not like Trudeau, Chretien or Martin were out there stringing copper across the vast expanses of the territories. Ottawa just generally treats the North like shit.
posted by GuyZero at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2011




Now, in fairness, it's not like Trudeau, Chretien or Martin were out there stringing copper across the vast expanses of the territories. Ottawa just generally treats the North like shit.


What about military installations and pipelines? ;)
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:01 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit: “Sorry, mixing up square miles and square km. Each of these five would have an area smaller than Kentucky. Ooopsie!”

Well then – if it's actually that small, how do they have room to move around at all? Heh.
posted by koeselitz at 3:18 PM on September 8, 2011


rb: The other 5 are the "permanent" population of Alert as of the 2006 census.
posted by bonehead at 3:28 PM on September 8, 2011


I was recently fishing in Kyuquot. No cell phone coverage on my iPhone. Internet at the place was severely limited. It was some sort of satellite technology. If someone's machine tried to download updates from Windows Update it basically exceeded their daily cap and everyone lost internet. Facebook photo galleries would cause similar issues. Everyone in town used CB radio to talk to each other.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:34 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


> I'm in canada for a year or two, and might have to consider making a trip to Alert some time... It's like the Patagonia of the North!

My wife's uncle worked in Alert for a few months back in the '80s. He says he and the other workers spent most of their down time getting drunk and watching movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:37 PM on September 8, 2011


Really brings up the question of what role the government should play in all of this.
posted by sf9719 at 3:45 PM on September 8, 2011


If I ever get the ear of a sufficiently connected politician, I'm going to pitch the idea of a government-owned cellular data network. Mainly because of this precise problem but also because it would completely freak out the owners of the current monopolies.
posted by suetanvil at 3:50 PM on September 8, 2011


One ISP, NorthwesTel

NorthwestTel is essentially the ISP. They're also the phone and cable company.

SSi Micro, another ISP in the Northwest Territories, recently filed an "Application to the CRTC concerning Northwestel Discriminatory Pricing". Here's what they had to say about it ("...Northwestel's proposed rates for backbone services remain from thirteen to thirty times higher than rates for similar services elsewhere in Canada.") and here is the filing itself.

Also: Iqualuit? Nunavet?

Come on, guys! It's not like these are really long names or anything. :)
posted by ODiV at 3:51 PM on September 8, 2011


Umm, satellite connections, anyone?

You're moving files, not playing Team Fortress.


Remember that satellites don't necessarily cover the polar regions. From a quick googling which is most likely inaccurate, Globalstar requires ground stations, which means that they don't work in most of the North. Iridium seems to, but nonetheless, Sat-transmission isn't a magic bullet.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:00 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Grise Fiord. I have never been to Nunavut, but I like very much that that according to Wikipedia, Grise Fiord has 141 people while Ellesmere Island as a whole has 146. I sometimes wonder as to those other five in the 200,000 or so sq. km. Are they all together? Are they spread out? (NB: For Americans to get their heads around this, this would mean each of these five people would have an area slightly larger than Indiana to move around in.)

According to the Wikipedia article on Ellesmere Island, there are three settlements on the island:
- Grise Fiord, population 141;
- Alert, population 5;
- Eureka, population 0.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2011


There's a LOT to discuss regarding the law around Telecommunications, the CRTC, promotion of access to broadband in rural communities. Favour: if anyone's interested in that stuff, and if I haven't come back to this by Sunday to post a comment [first week back at law school is busy], Memail me and I'll get on it.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:02 PM on September 8, 2011


- Eureka, population 0.

That's just what Global Dynamics wants you to think.
posted by kmz at 4:03 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


How do you think signals get from one cell tower to the other?

MASERS

Anyway, how many people are we talking about here? Wouldn't it be possible to get pretty high bandwidth for everyone using wireless? Getting low-density rural areas connected shouldn't be that difficult, you can do things you couldn't do in high density areas and vise versa. It would need to be something paid for by the government though.


Internet connectivity all over Canada is terrible. The bandwidth caps that were put in place recently were 20gb, and that had more to do with preserving revenue from cable then any actual capacity limits.
posted by delmoi at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2011


Internet connectivity all over Canada is terrible. The bandwidth caps that were put in place recently were 20gb

If my bandwidth was 20gb, I would be jumping for joy. But presuming you mean monthly limits, I'm in Atlantic Canada with Bell and don't have limits that I'm aware of. But it's way more expensive than it probably could be, and I know in many other parts of Canada they're doing that. But not everywhere!
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:17 PM on September 8, 2011


Disclaimer: I work in satellite telecom for two-way Internet access.

The Qiniq network run by the abovementioned SSI Micro is heavily subsidized by the Canadian federal government. There is a C-band satellite earth station in most towns in Nunavut, part of the Qiniq network. The teleport is the Loral/Telesat facility near Ottawa. The problem is the geography and the economics of satellite bandwidth. At $2500+ per dedicated Mbps of capacity, it's ridiculously expensive compared to terrestrial microwave systems or fiber optic cable connections. The geography of Nunavut makes it extremely, prohibitively expensive to construct a network of 90 meter tall radio towers for microwave relay all the way to the south, and running fiber cable across the permafrost/tundra is also highly problematic.

There isn't any easy solution. As others have pointed out above the population is about 33,000 to 35,000 spread out over a truly vast area. Future improvements in Ka-band spot beam capacity over North America might mean that a Ka-band spot could be focused on the Canadian north, allowing the use of tighter modulations and higher data rates from smaller sized satellite earth stations. The other alternative is to bite the bullet and go through the one time cost of constructing extremely large (9 meter to 13 meter size) C-band earth stations in each town to replace the current 4.6 meter Qiniq dishes. This will reduce the $/Mbps by using tighter carrier modulations in the existing C-band MHz available.

Iridium is not relevant as an Internet access technology except for field expeditions and maritime use. It's expensive by $/megabyte and really only useful as the Iridium OpenPort ship based solution, and even then extremely expensive. It's a completely different technology than fixed aim geostationary VSAT systems, which is what we need to be talking about for the north.
posted by thewalrus at 4:18 PM on September 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


I guess I should mention that there is *also* a NorthwestTel satellite earth station in most larger towns, which provides a competing service to the Qiniq network. NorthwesTel is owned by Bell and doesn't really have much reason to upgrade the service, as it either breaks even or loses money for them. The revenue is just too low (33,000 population) to justify it. NorthwesTel is also the recipient of significant government subsidies to keep service alive in most areas.

The last mile access issue is relatively uncomplicated. Most towns in Nunavut are quite compact. Wireline (ADSL/ADSL2+) type infrastructure is more rare. Qiniq uses a Motorola 2.5GHz (not 2.4GHz!) point to multipoint TDMA system that is similar to the Motorola Canopy product used by many wireless ISPs. The problem with the particular Motorola system they're using is that it's 6 year old technology and end of life. The network performance bottleneck is by far the satellite uplink from each community, though, not the 15 to 25Mbps shared TDMA last mile access.
posted by thewalrus at 4:38 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Australia, carrier pigeon is faster than our rural Internet
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:43 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least in Australia you have plentiful Ku-band spot beam coverage of the different rural areas of your entire continent. This allows much smaller/less expensive individual household TDMA VSAT installations (1.0 to 1.8 meter size) with inexpensive 4W Tx BUCs and inexpensive modems. In North America all the Ku band capacity is focused south of 60 degrees north latitude.
posted by thewalrus at 4:47 PM on September 8, 2011


This is interesting. I'm going to have to write something about this whole situation. The "last thousand miles."
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:47 PM on September 8, 2011


For those wondering why the speeds are so bad: Imagine a town of 400 people sharing a single T1 line. Except instead of 1.54 Mbps each direction symmetric, you have 1.5 Mbps downstream and about 600 kbps upstream. And your latency is not 10ms but 600 ms to the Internet gateway on the other side of the satellite link. That's what the typical Qiniq earth station connection in a Nunavut town is.
posted by thewalrus at 4:48 PM on September 8, 2011


And I bet the advertising for these connections uses the words like "blazing fast".
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:00 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is that modern websites are no longer optimized for bandwidth restricted connections. Get a V.90 modem and run a dialup connection with it, it's about equivalent to a highly congested geostationary satellite connection. The BBC still publishes a low-image/low bandwidth version of its page, but "web 2.0" anything is definitely not considering that it's a problem to have 450KB of data to load the front page of a website.
posted by thewalrus at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem is that modern websites are no longer optimized for bandwidth restricted connections.

Ain't that the truth. Back in the olden days, we used to have an unofficial total page size cap that is about half the size of the background images commonly used these days.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:23 PM on September 8, 2011


Typo in original post is mine, of course. Pointless to ask mods to fix it. I know perfectly well it’s spelled Iqaluit.
posted by joeclark at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2011


No, mods are ok fixing typos. Helps keep the database presentable.
posted by loquacious at 5:45 PM on September 8, 2011


I live about 40km between Vancouver and Victoria BC, and all I can "officially" get is dial-up (averages < 19.2 kbps, since our phone lines are so old) or satellite (which is very expensive and and often not much better than dialup). Cell phones barely work here. Telco and cable companies have no interest in bringing broadband service to this community, since it's not worth their effort A bunch of us got together and rigged some fixed-wireless repeater equipment on a local hill and has line of sight to a mountain that has a fast 'net connection, so we managed to make something work pretty well, but still. This is right near two major cities! I can't imagine how hard it must be to get fast broadband to places as remote as most of Nunavut.

Unless the government mandates and subsidizes broadband for all communities, like they did to get telephone and electricity service to the vast majority of the population, there's no way private enterprise is going to do this.
posted by Emanuel at 5:46 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Emanuel, where are you? On a gulf island? I'm asking because if you're within 40km of Victoria or Vancouver and somewhere near a hill, there's ways you could get 10Mbps broadband with a one time equipment purchase. 40km is nothing for a point to point 5.7/5.8GHz link between two 60cm dishes assuming you have a clear fresnel zone.
posted by thewalrus at 5:48 PM on September 8, 2011


Nova Scotia brought in 100 percent Braodband coverage in under 4 years, A smaller province, yes, but they did it. ANd the minute one company moved into an "unprofitable" remote area with a bit of help from the province, a second company was right behind them to compete.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:49 PM on September 8, 2011


Nova Scotia is a completely different case - Nunavut measures almost TWO BILLION square kilometers in land area. Ranking of towns by population.
posted by thewalrus at 5:51 PM on September 8, 2011


Typo in original post is mine, of course. Pointless to ask mods to fix it. I know perfectly well it’s spelled Iqaluit.

(Grumbles softly as he copies to memory stick and heads back to the plane).
posted by hal9k at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


What is interesting to me is that it almost didn't happen this way. I mean, BC and Alaska and the Yukon and maybe even these parts of Canada not being wired.

Before the Trans-Atlantic undersea cables were a success, there was the plan for the Russian-American Telegraph, an audacious attempt to connect North America to Europe by way of Russia and the Bering Strait.

At the time it was arguably more feasible than the task of an undersea cable, and nearly beat the undersea cables.

It's apparently one of the reasons why Seattle and the Puget Sound and Pacific Northwest has been an early adopter of technology for well over a century. Apparently it wasn't all loggers, gold rushers and frontiersmen. There was a buildup of telegraph technicians and technology mixed in there very early on.

Now there's an alternate history worthy of a SF treatment for you. Would the Cold War still happen if the US and Russia had been sharing a telegraph line with Europe since 1870? WW2? WW1? Would communism ever take hold?
posted by loquacious at 5:54 PM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree, thewalrus, that the challenges are different, but in some ways Nunavut might be easier because the population is in little pockets. You don't need service to every square kilometre. You just need to get it to the few dots on the map where the population is densly packed.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2011


Nova Scotia is small enough to be entirely served with terrestrial broadband (point to point relays of 25 to 90 km distance between radio towers and mountaintops) or with fiber optic cable run alongside roads. There are few places in Nova Scotia that are inaccessible by road. It's a relatively trivial technological feat to run aerial pole to pole fiber optic cable on power lines/telephone lines parallel to a road.

Nunavut is a whole other game - as a satellite networking professional, even if I were given a near unlimited budget to install a 13 meter C-band earth station in every town and outfit it with the latest equipment, the total capacity of a C-band SCPC link to "the south" would be a tiny infinitesimal fraction of the data capacity that you can push through one wavelength in a single strand of fiber.
posted by thewalrus at 6:00 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


In fact, the entire Mbps throughput data capacity of an entire 6000 kilogram, $250 million geostationary telecommunications satellite (see: Boeing 702HP bus, etc) is a tiny infinitesimal fraction of the Gbps capacity you can push through a single strand of a fiber optic cable half the diameter of a pencil.
posted by thewalrus at 6:03 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


So why don't they run some fiber instead of complaining about it? If you can run phone lines there you can run fiber.
posted by w0mbat at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2011


If you can run phone lines there you can run fiber.

No company wants to undergo that expense that they'll never earn back.
posted by mrbill at 6:57 PM on September 8, 2011


There's no roads to run fiber alongside in Nunavut, for WAN (not MAN) connections. 99% of communities are accessible only by air, or sea for 2.5 months out of the year. The cost of running thousands of kilometers of armored fiber across the permafrost to the nearest terrestrial fiber (in central Manitoba) would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
posted by thewalrus at 7:00 PM on September 8, 2011


Seconding the idea that you don't have to go to Nunavit to experience this.

I'm two hours north of Toronto and my only options for internet are

1. dial up

2. Hughes satellite, which I had and SUCKED. Terrible latency, monstrously expensive, and it knocks you down to dial up speed for 24 hours if you bust your daily cap.

3. Point to point wireless, which goes from my house to my neighbor's grain silo, to the radio mast in the valley, to the water tower in the town by the lake, and from their by DSL to the next bigger town where it finally hits the backbone. This is my current set up -- 3Mbs down and 1.5 up, 25Gb cap, $100/mo. And every time the wind blows it goes out.
posted by unSane at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2011


(too far from a digital exchange for DSL, a common problem in rural areas)
posted by unSane at 7:01 PM on September 8, 2011


Oh, man. See, here's what I seriously grok about MeFi. A
discussion about the technical options in getting driver pictures around above the Arctic circle.

I keep thinking: can they really NOT have VHF/UHF towers several hundred feet high dotting that area -- for law enforcement or military or old DEW installations or something -- with space for microwave dishes?

Too much ice and wind?? Too expensive to keep repeaters from freezing? Did Farley not write a book about the travails of a telecommunications engineer sent North to solve the problem with a cellphone, 13 light bulbs, three mukluks and a 3-ton crate of forms??
posted by Twang at 9:35 PM on September 8, 2011


Renting space for dishes on VHF/UHF towers is really expensive, according to the guys who do my wifi. Plus there's then the problem of maintaining alignment in arctic conditions and sending someone out there to fix it when it goes down. Usually this is in high wind conditions, which is exactly the moment you can't climb up a radio mast. And how do you get the engineer out there anyway, with his spares, in the middle of winter? Fly her/him in? Who pays?

To give you an example of the kind of thing that can go wrong, my neighbor's goats ate through the power cable to the radio on his grain silo in the middle of a winter storm and it was four days before the roads were clear enough that the engineer could get up our dirt road to fix it. And we're two hours north of Toronto.
posted by unSane at 9:41 PM on September 8, 2011


And we're two hours north of Toronto.

So that puts you in Richmond Hill...
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:47 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


ha, no, take the 410 instead...
posted by unSane at 9:51 PM on September 8, 2011


Twang writes "I keep thinking: can they really NOT have VHF/UHF towers several hundred feet high dotting that area -- for law enforcement or military or old DEW installations or something -- with space for microwave dishes?"

thewalrus what would be the power requirements of microwave dishes assuming nicely spaced towers every 100 kilometres or so? 'Cause power the dishes is going to be a problem in a remote local where solar is ineffective several months of the year.
posted by Mitheral at 12:03 AM on September 9, 2011


The power requirements are only part of it. If you've ever flown over the Alaskan north slope tundra or over Nunavut, you'd understand... It's FLAT, like a pancake. The curvature of the earth limits the practical distance you can run point to point microwave relays, due to the fresnel zone, and the economic reality of constructing 100 meter height towers.

The problems with building massively high radio towers all the way from Nunavut to central Manitoba are many:

a) You need a big-ass foundation for a tall, wind resistant tower (self supporting or guyed), and that's really hard to do on permafrost. It needs to "float".

b) There is no road access to the places where you need to build the towers. Maybe something like Ivan the Terra Bus (as seen at McMurdo station) could get there, maybe not. The only access to places like where the towers would need to be constructed is by ski plane/float plane/helicopter. I don't even want to imagine the cost of transporting the massive equipment necessary to erect a 100 meter guyed tower on permafrost to the middle of nowhere by helicopter. You would need to lease all of the available Mi-26 helicopters in the world and probably still would not have enough airlift capacity to get the job done.

c) the construction season is really short.

d) each tower and its relay equipment needs a source of energy. the DEW line sites are famously contaminated from diesel generator usage. with modern high-end solar power equipment it is PROBABLY possible to build a setup that uses a hybrid solar-generator approach to keep a battery bank charged during the long, long winters.

e) the many communities in nunavut are so spread out that to connect everything to a central backbone link would probably require several hundred towers. it's the size of texas and alaska combined, almost two billion square kilometers.

etc, etc.
posted by thewalrus at 2:03 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


er... Nunavut has a land area just under 2 million sq km, not two billion as stated above.
posted by aeshnid at 3:19 AM on September 9, 2011


And then we get into the whole tethered balloon/circling drone broadband wireless relay idea. Although I don't know the Northern Canadian weather, I can guess...

Are we saying that no, can not has? I may move up there... narrowband HF is fine by me.
posted by Devonian at 4:19 AM on September 9, 2011


To put it bluntly: It would be cheaper to move every single resident of Canada's territories south to major population centers, and employ them there, than it would be to run decent internet to their current villages.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:54 AM on September 9, 2011


The cost of running thousands of kilometers of armored fiber across the permafrost to the nearest terrestrial fiber (in central Manitoba) would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

I don't imagine they'd be laying fibre across the tundra. Surely the way to go would be submarine cables. Manitoba to Rankin Inlet, or Newfoundland to Iqaluit. Both are ice-free some of the time, right? So on the order of $50,000 per km of cable according to this, which is probably way out-of-date. Somewhere over $10,000 per person served would be my guess, so maybe not quite commercially viable. But maybe worth doing anyway.
posted by sfenders at 4:59 AM on September 9, 2011


There is a subtext to this report. As the world gets warmer, Nunavut will end up next to a major shipping lane. Canada needs to get enough people up there so it can assert some sovereignity over Ellesmere Island so that it ends up being a Canadian shipping lane, not an international one. And, if there turns out to be oil, they'd like to be able to extract it. To get people to live in the far north, the Canadian government is going to have to start providing better government services, even though it wouldn't be considered economical in other isolated areas.

Alaska is pretty good at providing an OK quality of life even in the most northern towns, although of course they have oil money to pay for it with.
posted by miyabo at 6:09 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my family lives about halfway between Niagara Falls, Ontario and Fort Erie. They can see Buffalo from their front window, and are on a well built-up road. And they can only get dial-up. No cable service either.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:34 AM on September 9, 2011


Canada has to do something to improve quality of life in these areas. Internet would help, and doing something about prices for goods would help. Every professional or technical person I've met up there is completely frustrated and overwhelmed by the challenges. Want to get an earful or frustrations and problems? Go to one of the more problematic communities and sit in the restaurant of a hotel around breakfast time and listen to the people who are being rotated in and out.

If we can't do a better job (ie: like a Marshall Plan), I can see why soverignty is such an issue - maybe the Americans, Russians, Danes, Norwegians or somebody else could. The emphasis on mining, and the governments development strategy in the North is reminiscent of the British Empire's "development" of Zambia.
posted by Intrepid at 8:01 AM on September 9, 2011


Nunavut actually is almost two billion square kilometres. Quoting Statistics Canada:

"Land area (square km) 1,932,254.97"

that's one million, nine hundred thirty two thousand, two hundred and fifty four square km.
posted by thewalrus at 10:16 PM on September 9, 2011


I'm an idiot.
posted by thewalrus at 10:36 PM on September 9, 2011


I decided to practise journalism and ask the Nunavut Department of Economic Development and Transportation about the licence-photo issue. (In particular, could they not transmit only low-resolution versions to other offices? And are they in fact using E-mail – clearly the worst possible transmission method for multiple items of the same type – instead of an FTP site or a CVS?)

Neither of the designated media contacts got back to me after 10 full days.
posted by joeclark at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2011


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