The Internet in Canada’s far north
November 13, 2008 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Using the Web to buy a carton of milk in Nunavut. Satellite Internet in Nunavut (Canada’s newest territory – the White Stripes played there) is slow and has such draconian bandwidth caps (2GB a month) that nobody downloads audio or video. But they use it for every kind of online banking and E-commerce in a territory with barely any retail stores.

Revel in the irony of listening to a podcast interview (regular Web page with links to high- and low-bandwidth MP3) that Nunavummiut could barely justify downloading. (That’s where the carton of milk is mentioned.)
posted by joeclark (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting stuff. And who knew that Joe Clark was user 250? That's vintage.
posted by bicyclefish at 8:56 PM on November 13, 2008

Why can't they lay fiber optic up north? I know it's expensive, but hell, Canada is big on capital projects, and they have a strategic interest in paying attention to the Arctic Islands, what all with melting icecaps, the Northwest Passage, and offshore oil.
posted by crapmatic at 11:44 PM on November 13, 2008

Among the Canadian provinces, Nunavut is first in area and last in population. They don't even have roads up there (500 miles of highway in the entire province). Fiber's not even on the to-do list.
posted by ryanrs at 12:30 AM on November 14, 2008

There isn't even batshit in Nunavut. Those folks are just plain insane (traditionally no doubt).

Really this kind of thing should have some sort of creative proxy CDN setup where people request what they want to download and it gets put into a request queue where it is downloaded by a computer in the 'south' and then a big fat hard drive full of data comes north with each mail delivery and it gets swapped into a server where they all can then access it without satellite fees. Something kind of like how the warez scene used to work back in the BBS days crossed with a time delayed Google Gears/offline capacity.
posted by srboisvert at 4:05 AM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you want a look at the remoteness and harshness of Nunavut, check out the History series Ice Road Truckers.
posted by acro at 4:34 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

The guys from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are working on a new sci-fi show about a spaceship called the Nunavut.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 4:52 AM on November 14, 2008

Also, this story reminds me of good old times.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 4:56 AM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Even here in Yellowknife where we have cable the limit is 10GB up+down. I'm paying extra for twice as much, but that's only a recent option. I don't know if the bandwidth limits are due to actual bandwidth limitations to down south or due to the monopoly that is our phone/cable company (yes it's the same company, no we didn't get cable any sooner because of this, and we lost residential ADSL).

Trying to access workstations remotely over those satellite connections is a huge pain. I can only imagine how annoying it is using one as your regular connection. On top of the lag, most sites these days are getting larger and larger so regular surfing is going to take a bigger bite out of your bandwidth allocation as time goes on.
posted by ODiV at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2008

Among the Canadian provinces, Nunavut is first in area and last in population.

Nunavut is not a province.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:49 AM on November 14, 2008

Here in Inuvik (Northwest Territories) we are lucky enough to have a (dirt) road to the south for about 10 months of the year. A jug of 2 litre milk is around $7. We have TWO (count 'em) two ISP's in town, and one offers unlimited downloads. The catch? They recently blocked Torrent and PTP programs. I'm still trying to find a way around this.

And yeah, Joe Clark = user 250. I noticed that too. A founding Mefite.
posted by Brodiggitty at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2008

Why can't they lay fiber optic up north?

I think the population is something like 29,000 spread over 26 communities, each hundreds of miles apart. That's lost of buck for virtually no bang.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2008

Brodiggity, you're in Inuvik? I used to live there, my partner and I ran the bakery-deli in Northmart (which, for non-northerners, is the same chain as the Northern store mentioned in the article).

My partner and I were some of the southerners who moved up north and discovered online shopping. That was actually when we bought our first computer (2001? 2002?) and shortly after that, our first video game console, dvd player, stereo, music library, etc... Oh, ebay, you got me through those long winter months. Of course, if we had been drinkers, we wouldn't have stayed home so much. We might have left the territories with a slightly different set of problems than too much stuff, though.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:11 AM on November 14, 2008

I use satellite internet in arctic Alaska when I'm there. It's funny -- on a foggy day you can't get online.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2008

Admins, I mistyped “north” in the title. Do please fix.
posted by joeclark at 2:44 PM on November 16, 2008

2GB/month is draconian? You should try living in Australia. How would you feel about paying $30/month for 256/64 kbits/s ADSL with a 200MB (yes, MB, not GB) allowance, with upload traffic counted as well, and excess data charged at 15c/MB? That's the entry-level offer from the ex-monopoly telco here. You don't even need to be out in the bush - they're just as happy to gouge their capital city customers to the same extent.
posted by flabdablet at 3:30 PM on November 16, 2008

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