Nunavik launches first high-speed Internet service

Quick Link Communications Ltd. and La fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau Québec (FCNQ) Monday officially launched a satellite Internet service in Nunavik, the first high-speed connection for the remote arctic

region.

ilagi, which translates loosely to “”family,”” will service 14 communities, each ranging in size from 150 to 2,000 residents. The service, which employs Quick Link’s CampusNet solution, is already live in two test communities, Salluit and Puvirnitug, and in the coming days will extend to a third, Inukjuak. On May 1, ilagi will be available to Nunavik’s entire population of 10,000. Monday’s launch will coincide with a traditional community feast in Salluit.

ilagi project manager Robert Giacobbe says the federal government’s National Broadband Task Force, which offered a plan to make high-speed Internet services available to all Canadian communities by the year 2004, served as the inspiration for igali.

“”It became our mandate, given to us from the directors (of the community cooperatives) to get the same service as down south,”” he says.

The FCNQ, set up by the community co-ops 30 years ago, employs group buying power to provide services to Nunavik residents ranging from food wholesaling to construction services, tank farm management to tourism promotion, sealifts to cable television. And Giacobbe says delivering high-speed Internet isn’t all that different from delivering cable TV.

In fact, when the directors decided to bring telecommunications services to the Nunavik communities in the mid-1990s, they implemented a cable television infrastructure with an eye towards future Internet provision.

“”What we had already was the last mile. We had the satellite-related infrastructure for Internet,”” says Caroline Dagneau, FCNQ director of special projects.

For Quick Link, which has deployed satellite solutions for oil and gas and mining projects in Alberta and for First Nations communities in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, ilagi marks the first time the Calgary-based satellite access service provider has teamed up with a cable head-end provider. With igali, the cable head-end, supplied by FCNQ, acts as a satellite hub, delivering the Internet through co-axial cable into a home or business.

“”We’re delivering two-way data and the benefit of the cable and satellite (is) cost-effectiveness”” compared to a fixed wireless or terrestrial connection, says Quick Link director of marketing business and business development Cassy Weber. “”The key value proposition is they’re guaranteed 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps of speed. If they were relying on a terrestrial solution, it would be 56k.””

The FCNQ rates are only marginally higher than those charged by providers in the country’s most urban environments. Residential users of ilagi will pay either $10 per month or a $300 one-time fee for a cable modem, a $100 set up fee and $79 per month for service ($59 for FCNQ cable TV subscribers), which includes a maximum download of 1 GB per month. igali also offers residential dial-up packages for $19 and $39 per month, with a $50 set-up fee. Cable access packages, which include maximum downloads of 1 GB, 2GB and 5 GB per month, cost $229, $459 and $699 per month respectively, not including a $400 set up charge.

The costs are the same for all FCNQ customers, whether they live in a community of 100 or 2,000 people. “”The co-cop philosophy is that they all move together without leaving any behind,”” Dagneau says.

Dagneau says the FCNQ service will be especially welcomed by Nunavik residents who have been paying up to $1,600 per month for Bell Sympatico service.

“”If people are prepared to pay that, I guess they want the Internet,”” she says. “”We’ve had no problem finding test customers.””

Though some remote communities, including some of those in Nunavik, will still need funding from Ottawa or private interests to make high-speed access affordable, Weber says high-speed connections for even the most remote regions are becoming more and more feasible.

“”If you would have looked at the solutions five years ago, to receive high-speed access would have been so expensive, it just didn’t happen,”” Weber adds. “”Five years later, costs have come down on all fronts, which makes it competitive, wherever you are.””

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