The short answer:

No, NBDC is not Qiniq. NBDC is a not-for-profit advocate and community champion that initiates and manages projects, leveraging federal investments in broadband services delivered through the private sector. Qiniq is a Nunavut-wide network operated by SSI Micro which won a competitive bid process NBDC initiated in 2003 to provide internet access in all 25 Nunavut communities. NBDC worked to secure the initial government funding and debt financing to get the Qiniq network built and operating but NBDC does not operate the network and does not generate any revenue from the network.

The long answer:

NBDC was established in 2002 to secure funding from the Government of Canada to set up Internet infrastructure in all Nunavut communities. In 2003, NBDC conducted a comprehensive needs analysis and wrote a business plan to submit to Industry Canada’s BRAND (Broadband for Rural and Northern Development) Program. As part of the business planning process, NBDC ran a public RFP and SSI Micro was selected to build and operate the network, as they submitted the lowest-cost bid to provide services. All financing was secured by the spring of 2004, and Qiniq was launched in the summer of 2005.  User uptake was wildly successful and Qiniq reached the 9-year user projections after just 9 months. In 2008, NBDC signed a second funding agreement to support, among other things, the growing Qiniq user base.

Over the period 2003-2016, NBDC will have managed over $66 million in broadband investments in Nunavut, coming predominantly from the federal government, debt financing organizations and the private sector. 

Other things you might want to know about NBDC:

  • NBDC is governed by a volunteer board of Nunavut residents from across the territory
  • The majority of our  over 70 individual members are Inuit, as required in our bi-laws;
  • The majority of our board members are Inuit;
  • NBDC relies on government funding to operate and to carry out projects and receives no revenue from these projects;
  • NBDC is vendor and technology neutral, meaning it does not specify a technical solution to answer a defined need as stated by the public;
  • NBDC uses public RFPs to select private sector parties to deliver solutions to challenges identified by its membership.

It’s hard to believe but in Canada landline telephone service is considered an essential service while broadband is not. Over the past 10 years, Nunavut has benefited from a series of federal investments in broadband infrastructure. While the investments helped bring Internet access to all Nunavut communities in 2005 and supported it since, they are not adequately meeting the evolving needs and aspirations of Nunavut users and unless significant change is realized, the digital divide within the North and between North and South will continue to widen.

According to a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, Nunavut has, on average, the highest cost and lowest service levels of any jurisdiction in Canada when it comes to telecommunication services:

CFN Connectivity report

Nunavut’s vast landmass (2 million square kilometres – 20% of Canada’s land mass and 40% of Canada’s coast line), our dispersed and modest population (33,000 residents in 25 communities, with population being more equally dispersed than in other parts of Canada where the majority of the population is concentrated in major urban centres), and the high cost of doing business up here contribute to the high cost of service. As well, because Nunavut has no terrestrial links to the rest of Canada, we are entirely reliant on satellites for all our telecommunication services. And while next generation satellites with higher throughput service more populated parts of North America, Nunavut is currently only served by an older generation of satellites that are reaching their end of life.

At the same time, it should be noted that there are still rural parts of southern Canada, and especially remote aboriginal communities in the provincial North, who have less services and/or higher costs than Nunavut.

NBDC has been advocating for a revision of the regulatory and funding frameworks for telecommunication services in the North to recognize that broadband is an essential service and to support the availability and affordability of broadband access in all Nunavut communities, alongside voice service.

The technology connecting you to your local service provider (within your community) is called the “last mile” technology. In Nunavut there are several last mile technologies including wireless and ADSL. Next in the chain is the technology connecting the local service provider to the Internet (the rest of the world). This is called “backhaul” and in Nunavut there is only satellite backhaul. While next generation satellites with higher throughput service more populated parts of North America, Nunavut is currently only served by an older generation of satellites that are reaching their end of life.

There are other backhaul options and in 2011 NBDC commissioned a fibre feasibility study in order to have accurate and current information on the costs, challenges and benefits of alternate backhaul technologies, namely fibre optic, microwave and next generation satellite.

Nunavut can learn a lot by looking at our eastern neighbours. Greenland also has no terrestrial links between communities yet they have a telecommunication network providing a wide range of services to all communities through a mix of fibre, microwave and satellite backhaul. For example, all communities have ADSL service, regardless of the backhaul technology. All settlements with 70 or more residents have 2G cell phone service and 3G service is available in all cities, some villages and some recreational areas/transport corridors. Even sheep and caribou farmers living outside settlements have direct satellite Internet access – at the same price as the basic ADSL rates.

The bottom line is: it’s not a question of technology, it’s a question of public policy. It takes political will and adequate funding to ensure that all Nunavut residents have adequate, affordable and equitable telecommunication services regardless of the backhaul technology.

A commitment to ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable telecommunication services is enshrined in the Telecommunications Act. Section 7 of the Act sets out the objectives of Canadian telecommunications policy, including the objective “to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada”.

Currently, southern telephone operators (and by extension, their customers) pay a small tax (less than one percent of revenues) into the National Contribution Fund which supports the delivery of the Basic Service Objective (BSO) in rural and remote areas. The BSO was defined some time ago and currently only mandates the delivery of landline phone service and dial-up Internet access. NBDC has argued, as have others, that the current definition is outdated and should recognize broadband as an essential service.

The Economic Development argument

Numerous studies from the likes of the World Band, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Telecommunications Union, academics and other governments, have shown the positive link between broadband and economic development. Without continued and substantial investment in northern broadband, the digital divide will widen and economic prosperity will become increasingly elusive for Nunavut and Nunavummiut.

NBDC’s own broadband socioeconomic impact assessment found that if Nunavut were able to leverage high-speed Internet (or more accurately, broadband) with the same degree of success achieved by rural communities in the south are able to, the current level of impact from Internet access could grow between 2 and 3.2 times their current levels, to between $30 and $50 million in GDP (at market prices), between $20 and $30 million in direct and spin-off wages and salaries (household income), between 390 and 630 jobs, and between $3 and 5 million in direct and spin-off tax revenues.

The Human rights argument

Frank La Rue, United Nations ‘ Special Rapporteur on the promotion and Protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said it best:

Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.

The nation-building argument

Just as the national railway of the 19th century and the TransCanada Highway of the 20th century were essential infrastructure to connect Canada from coast to coast, in the 21st century Canada needs to invest in the information highway to truly connect Canada from coast to coast to coast.

The Arctic Sovereignty argument

Given the current interest in the Arctic, its resources and waterways (from Canada and other nations), it is in the national interest to support healthy and strong communities in the North and affordable and equitable broadband is a necessary requirement.

Broadband is essential infrastructure for arctic sovereignty. Without adequate communication services in the North there is the risk that emergency services, delivery of health and education, government operations, northern aviation, business activity, banking and other financial transactions, and military operations could be compromised. Without adequate communications services, the future of arctic communities is compromised.

All Nunavut residents deserve the same level of telecommunication services and any approach that would see some services only available in some communities is incomplete, inadequate and inequitable. In fact, that is the approach taken in Southern Canada, and the disparity of services there has been a challenge to rural and remote communities since the inception of Internet services in Canada.

NBDC has since its creation advocated for service party, or equitable services, in all Nunavut communities. The population in Nunavut is more evenly spread out than in other parts of Canada’s North and the three largest communities still account for only a third of the territory’s population. According to the 2011 census, the community with the greatest population growth between 2006 and 2011 was Repulse Bay. With an astounding 26.3% increase in population (compared to Iqaluit’s relatively modest 8.3%). In fact, 12 communities posted double digit population growth since 2006 – and the regional capitals were not among them. Quite simply put, Nunavut’s population is more evenly spread out between all 25 communities, as is the territory’s population growth. The trend that sees smaller communities growing at a faster rate than larger centres is unique to Nunavut. In other jurisdictions, smaller communities are getting smaller, and urban centres are growing (a global phenomenon known as deruralization). Nunavut needs our own policies and solutions to meet our own unique challenges.

Service parity is also important for internal cross-subsidization which makes service provision in the smaller markets/communities economically viable. That means that a company providing service in all 25 communities can take profit generated in the larger markets/communities to help cover the cost of providing service in the smaller markets/communities

NBDC is vendor and technology neutral. We advocate for equitable, affordable and reliable telecommunication services in all Northern communities, using the best backhaul technology in the best location and encouraging competition and innovation in the last mile.

Nunavut is currently only serviced by satellite and we wouldn’t have the service we have today otherwise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look ahead. So in 2011 NBDC commissioned a fibre feasibility study in order to have accurate and current information on the costs, challenges and benefits of alternate backhaul technologies, namely fibre optic, microwave and next generation satellite. In Greenland, for example, where there are similar challenges as in Nunavut, they have a heterogeneous network – a mix of satellite, fibre and microwave. Using the best technology in the best location and providing the same services across the board.

The bottom line is: it’s not a question of technology, it’s a question of public policy. It takes political will and adequate funding to ensure that all Nunavut residents have adequate, affordable and equitable services regardless of the technology.

NBDC serves the role of a vendor and technology neutral consumer advocate and industry watchdog. NBDC is based in Nunavut, governed by Nunavut residents, and represents the collective interests of Nunavut users, including residents, small business, organizations, and municipal governments - the users not served by government or other large, private networks.

You’re probably familiar with NBDC’s first major project, the Qiniq network. NBDC secured the funding that got Qiniq built and offering service in all Nunavut communities. That’s one of NBDC’s main areas of work: ensuring that there’s investment to support Internet infrastructure and evolution of services to meet public telecommunication needs in Nunavut.

Over the period 2003-2016, NBDC will have raised and managed over $66 million in broadband investments in Nunavut, coming predominantly from the federal government and the private sector.  While NBDC has been successful in accessing funding through a series of federal programs, NBDC believes that a holistic and long term solution is needed if northern customers are to, in the words of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, “receive telecommunication services, both regulated and forborne, comparable to those available to Southern Canada in terms of choice, quality and reliability”. And NBDC would add affordability.

Here are some of our recent projects:

  • NBDC has been involved in the CRTC’s review of the Northwestel modernization plan, advocating for a revision of the current regulatory and funding framework to ensure that telecommunication services in the North catch up to offerings in southern Canada.
  • In 2012 NBDC organized Nunavut’s first Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Summit, bringing together over 70 participants from government, Inuit organizations, carriers and service providers as well as civil society from across Nunavut and Canada. The summit focused on the multiple and wide-ranging issues that must be addressed in order to advance the state of ICTs in Nunavut. An ICT Task Force was formed at the summit to develop a long term ICT strategy for Nunavut.
  • In 2011 NBDC commissioned a fibre feasibility study and a broadband socioeconomic impact assessment. The resulting reports will help inform future northern telecommunication policy by addressing knowledge gaps, in the case of the fibre feasibility study, and by demonstrating the socioeconomic benefits of broadband connectivity in Nunavut, in the case of the socioeconomic impact assessment.
  • In 2012-2013 NBDC, in partnership with the Canadian Deafness Research and Training Institute, ran a pilot project to test videoconference equipment that will better facilitate communication for the deaf in the territory. A follow-up project is anticipated in the coming year.
  • NBDC also carries out projects to support the development of local ICT capacity. In 2013 NBDC organized a very successful Drupal workshop and other workshops are in development.

To see a complete list of NBDC’s projects to date, go to the projects page.

2019 might seam far off, but if there is to be something in place when the existing funding ends, work has to start now. But NBDC thinks it can’t just be another 3-4 year program, another short term solution to a long term problem. NBDC has been actively working on several fronts to promote a long-term solution. These efforts include:

  • Advocating to CRTC to classify broadband as an essential service and to revise the funding and regulatory framework for northern telecommunications
  • Nunavut ICT summit to work towards a Nunavut ICT strategy that addresses not just connectivity but also issues like public access and skills development
  • Fibre feasibility study to examine the cost and feasibility of alternate technologies for next generation network
  • Broadband socioeconomic impact assessment to document the current social and economic benefits of broadband in Nunavut and to estimate the increased benefits from continued investment and improved connectivity
  • Exploring alternate ownership and governance models, such as the TeleGreenland approach

Many Nunavut communities have public access sites, often at the library or one of the schools. Download a complete listing of Nunavut’s public access sites.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry in Nunavut is growing and there is a shortage of ICT professionals with skills ranging from entry-level support to senior technicians, working in areas as diverse as digital media, application development, and network management. There will be many job opportunities for local Nunavut residents as the public, businesses and governments become more and more reliant on ICT and as people start to see this industry as a viable job option, and pursue the necessary training to get up to speed.

For more information on ICT careers, take a look at the job profiles on focusIT.ca.

In Nunavut, the Nunavut Arctic College offers a 2 year Computer Systems Technician (CST) Program.

You can also pursue training online. For example, Athabasca University’s School of Computing and Information Systems overs several degrees and diplomas via distance learning.

As well, NBDC periodically organizes professional development workshops. Contact us if there’s a topic you are interested in or to find out if there are any workshops coming up.

Yes, that’s what we’re here for. NBDC works to protect the rights and interest of Nunavut users. If you feel that you are not getting the services you are paying for or have other complaints, contact us.