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Wireless infrastructure - West good, East bad

December 15, 2012

In the north, generally speaking, the best wireless infrastructure (hence services and coverage) are in the West. While numerous small communities in NWT and Nunavut have no wireless services whatsoever.

A cursory review of the wireless services map for Alaska shows all major centres have 4G (ie. smart phone capable) coverage. The smaller centres have 2G (basic cell phone) coverage.

All Yukon communities have basic cell coverage while only Whitehorse and Dawson City have 4G coverage.

In the NWT, Yellowknife, Ft.Smith and Hay River have 4G coverage. Four communities have 3G: Dettah, Enterprise, Inuvik and Tuk. Ft.Simpson and Norman Wells have basic cell phone service only. The rest of NWT’s 21 communities have no wireless service.

In Nunavut, Iqaluit has 3G service, 7 other communities have basic cell service and the other 20 communities have no service. 

North-east BC has pretty good 4G and basic coverage.

The Ft.McMurray area has good coverage.

Northwestel is the main telecommunications provider for the 96 communities throughout the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, northern British Columbia.  The CRTC will soon be asking for public comment on Northwestel’s service. 

Northwestel put forward a plant modernization plan last July. Included in the plan was a $40 M investment from the parent company Bell Canada which was contingent on the CRTC allowing Bell to acquire Astral Media. The CRTC turned down the transaction. Bell and Astral have re-filed another application with the CRTC for Bell to acquire Astral. The details have not been made public, so it is unclear whether the new proposal contains the $40 M northern infrastructure investment. Northwestel will file a revised modernization plan with the CRTC on January 16, 2013.


More than 40 northern communities have no wireless services. These communities are in the NWT and Nunavut. For the most part these communities have lack terrestrial facilities to connect with the outside world. It is expensive and uneconomic to offer wireless services.

The dilemma is that Northwestel is an investor-owned company that needs to earn a profit. The $40 M injection of investment capital was a creative attempt by Bell/Northwestel to inject capital into uneconomic communities.

The CRTC regulates based on access to public switched telephone network, while consumers want wireless and Internet access. The lack of wireless services in many northern communities deserves the CRTC’s attention.