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5. Issues Today

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5.1 Introduction

Government participants and service providers outlined many of the challenges and issues they face today, in attempting to use and develop a communications infrastructure that can properly serve the Arctic.

This chapter of the Assessment attempts to identify and explain the communication issues across the three territories. An analysis provides detailed background that leads to the corresponding recommendations outlined in Chapter 9.

To put the specific Arctic issues in context, there are three fundamental challenges that weave their way through the nine issues outlined in this chapter.

Overall Result: Inadequate communication services in the Arctic […]

This graph shows the different communication issues suffered by government departments delivering government services in the Arctic using the existing infrastructure. The graph displays the percentage of those surveyed who experienced the following communication issues, from greatest percentage to least: bandwidth Shortage, cost, power outages, network outages, latency, lack of options from service providers, lack of user knowledge, IT personel shortage, old equipment, geographic coverage, new/additional infrastructure needed, capacity management of data (prioritization), interoperability, application not supported by network, security (protocol limits access to comms), and other. The overall trend shows Bandwidth Shortage is the most common issue, experienced by nearly 90% of those surveyed.

5.2 Communication Issues Identified by NCIS-WG

The NCIS-WG originally identified some of the key communication issues facing government departments attempting to use the infrastructure in delivering government services in the Arctic.

In a detailed questionnaire conducted as part of this Assessment, over 100 government program managers answered, providing quantitative data from a wide range of respondents that supported the issues identified by NCIS-WG members in 2010 […]

"To meet HRSDC requirements, we currently need 10 to 30 MB capacity, and we can foresee the future requirements for 100 MB into Whitehorse. Without facing prohibitive costs or contracting limitations, we can only procure a 1.5 MB line through our current vehicle. The HRSDC staff and the people they serve in Yukon are left out. We can't really support the staff properly."Louis Varin, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Government of Canada

5.3 No service parity

The goal of service parity is to ensure all Arctic residents can engage in activities on par with other Canadians, regardless of the type of backbone they must use due to geography.

It is clear from the data that Arctic access to communication services is not keeping pace with southern access to communications services. This is not simply a matter of people having to wait an extra few seconds or even minutes to get a web page to load. It is the difference between being able to actually do the job at hand, or not being able to do it at all.

This section looks at the differing levels of service parity between the North and South, between the territories, and within the territories and provides examples of the impact on the safety, security and quality of life for Arctic residents.

Access to modern networks will not necessarily result in increased opportunity in every facet of community life. However, lack of appropriate access will ensure that communities can not take advantage of what better communications access can help to provide - including improved health care, education, business opportunities, governance, engagement in development, and the hope of a better future for residents. […]

"The idea that we have to tell the North to slow down its economic development, to monitor how much they use the network, is not the message we want to convey if we want our Territory to succeed."Lisa Badenhorst, Economic Development, Government of Yukon

5.4 Bandwidth Shortage

The number one communication issue listed by NCIS-WG members and survey respondents was 'bandwidth shortage'. Certainly this was raised in every workshop as a key challenge in obtaining services, and was not directed to just satellite served communities…

No matter how you slice it, delivering affordable bandwidth to Arctic communities is an expensive business, that cannot be borne by the purchasers of service alone, nor by private sector providers that require a return on their investment to stay in business. […]

5.5 High cost to end user

The number two issue identified by users was high cost, just behind bandwidth shortage.

It is possible to buy more bandwidth to serve many of the needs of northern government users. The challenge to end users is that bandwidth costs are simply too high for many departmental budgets. So users are forced to purchase what they can afford, which is not enough to meet demand. Thus the link between high cost and bandwidth constraints.

This section outlines the concerns of government participants, and briefly examines some of the reasons why the costs to purchase services in the Arctic are so high […]

"Now that we are so dependant on our communication networks, being cut off from communications today actually causes the emergency, a similar phenomenon when city residents lose power. We don't heat our homes with wood anymore, so when the power goes out, people are at risk. It is the same for communication networks today - they need to be reliable." Yukon Visioning Workshop group

5.6 Reliability and quality of service gap

Yukon participants in workshops spoke at length about the damage to their economy, government operations, and danger posed to the public when their single fiber line was cut three times in 2010, cutting off Internet, cell phone, and point of sale to Whitehorse and beyond for up 8 hours or more […]

5.7 Geographic coverage inadequate

Another issue identified by NCIS-WG was lack of geographic coverage between communities, with over 40% of survey respondents identifying it as an issue.

The departments most concerned with lack of coverage between communities included emergency responders, military, environmental researchers, and some sites where government workers are required to work outside of communities […]

"Increases in development activity will increase potential for major releases of contaminants into the environment (e.g. oil spills). Gathering information on these events and planning and coordinating responses will require reliable and robust communications systems. A challenge will be providing bandwidth necessary to stream data and video, linking to remote locations, and a capacity to maintain systems such that they work when most needed." Ray Case, Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the NWT

5.8 Emergency Response Challenges

Operational realties on-the-ground require first responders, territorial EMOs and federal government departments to work together when responding to a disaster event. During such times, connectivity becomes the life line (sending/receiving situational reports, risk assessments, resource requests, etc) for an emergency response and recovery effort. During an emergency, the local telecommunications infrastructure is often overwhelmed, even in major urban centers.

In responding to emergencies, military communication services need to be able to interconnect with local networks securely and reliably in order to properly coordinate with civilian agencies, who will almost always be deployed before military arrives […]

5.9 Cannot Keep Pace with Technological Change

As one Yukon participant said "bits are bits". The challenge is to deliver robust services delivering bits properly and ubiquitously. With convergence, it no longer makes sense to separate vendors who provide voice services from vendors who provide Internet services - eventually all will be on the same pipe as IP networks begin to offer robust voice services.

Governments are launching initiatives to engage the public, knowing the people they need to reach may be online.

A number of participants felt the current CRTC model is not working well in the North, as they believe the regulator is not able to move quickly enough to respond to the changing communication realities of the Arctic […]

"When we are looking to improve a service…we hope the creativity comes from the service provider to solve the problem. We understand that if they can't commoditize a service, they can't deliver it."Terrel Hobbs, Technology Service Centre, Government of the NWT

5.10 Lack of Choice

NCIS-WG members identified the lack of choice of services as a major problem facing them in obtaining services. Respondents to surveys also identified this as a problem, and workshop participants elaborated on this theme, identifying issues such as limited competition, their perception of being served by risk-averse service providers, and their constraints in purchasing software that can operate in their environment.

Service providers who participated in this Assessment also saw challenges in procurement practices, that limited their ability to respond with innovative options, ultimately leading to lack of choice for government buyers […]

"There are not enough people or resources to provide services in person, so we are increasingly throwing technology at it to get around the people resource issue." Terrel Hobbs, Technology Service Centre, Government of the NWT

5.11 Human Resource Gap

There is a severe shortage of certain types of expertise in the Arctic. There are no Universities in any of the three Territories, there are a handful of small hospitals serving the entire region, very few banks, and a lack of specialized knowledge in all kinds of fields from finance to environmental protection.

Northerners sometimes need to find ways to obtain specialized services from people outside of their communities in order to access some of the expertise or services they need […]

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Prepared for the Northern Communications & Information Systems Working Group by Imaituk Inc.
Report funded by Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
Site by Manoverboard.
© Government of the Northwest Territories 2011.