Friday, November 02, 2012

Bring on the cable

I mentioned in the last post, the Moving to Iqaluit FAQ, that internet in Iqaluit is a shaky proposition. I'm not sure if it's the top thing that drives people nuts when they move here from down south, but it's probably top five. People get used to certain levels of internet quality...hell, I've heard people complain about how bad their internet is down south and it normally makes me laugh. It doesn't come close to how bad it is in Iqaluit. But then again, I have friends in other parts of Nunavut who would love to have what we have here...

Which goes to prove, no matter how much you whine about how bad things are, somebody always has it worse. For that matter, some would argue that given the many social and economic challenges that people face in Nunavut, is not being able to properly play World of Warcraft in Nunavut really the biggest problem we face?

I would argue having a proper telecommunications infrastructure is pretty vital to the development of the territory. Yes, there are negatives associated with that, and yes there will be frivolous uses, but for the positives will far outweigh the negatives.

For most of the time we've been here, better high speed internet has been a pipe dream. NorthwesTel and other northern communications providers have been unable, or unwilling, to make the investment in better satellite internet. And the notion of getting a fibre optic cable to Nunavut seemed laughable because the Government of Nunavut couldn't afford it and the Government of Canada certainly wasn't going to pony up the cash.

But then a funny thing happened. Arctic Fibre announced they were building a submarine fibre optic cable connecting Tokyo to London via the Canadian Arctic. It was going to cost about $600 million, but no worries, they already had the investors lined up. But seeing as how the cable was going right through Nunavut, was there any interest in doing a few branch lines to hook up some Nunavut communities along the route?

I think too many people were trying to pick their jaws up off the floor to react properly at first. I confess, my finally tuned bullshit sense (you develop it young when you grow up in Newfoundland and people you've never heard of before promise you the moon and the stars) went off. Especially since they were spending what seemed like an insane amount of money to shave a few milliseconds on the information transfer time between London and Tokyo.

Two things changed my mind about the seriousness. First, the satellite providers in the north went after Arctic Fibre as if they were the Spanish Inquisition. They were calling into question whether they would be able to get the funding, pointing the potential for the cable to be damaged by ice and not being able to be repaired for months, and that it wouldn't be able to service all of Nunavut.

The second thing was this article in Wired. It's not about Arctic Fibre, although the cable is mentioned a couple of times in the article. Rather it's about how some companies are willing to spend a lot of money just to get a few extra milliseconds advantage when it comes to trades on the financial markets. Milliseconds might not mean a lot to the average person waiting to watch a YouTube video, but it means millions to these guys.

(By the way, if you don't have the urge to pull every cent out of your RRSP and any other investments you have after reading that article, then you've a stronger constitution than I. It scared the crap out of me that this is how business is done. No wondered things are so fucked up.)

The last few months it's becoming pretty real. There's plenty of articles and editorials going up (Here, here, here, and here for some of Nunatsiaq News coverage. Even the Globe and Mail has noticed). At this point, I'm pretty much sign me up. Seriously, someone has just handed a gift wrapped package to Nunavut. You would have to be batshit crazy to pass it up.

Yes, there are risks. The cable could be damaged. But seeing as how it would piss off people with a lot of money invested in this, I think we can count on them taking a lot of steps to make sure that doesn't happen. There's the argument that since the cable will only service about half of Nunavut, we shouldn't take part unless all of Nunavut gets the same service.

That one makes me want to smack my head on a wall. Look, if a cable came from Manitoba and serviced Rankin and the Kivalliq, but nothing for Baffin Island, I'd be jealous, but I wouldn't say "You can't have it if we can't have it."It's so unbelievable selfish and shorts-sighted that it drives me crazy. Plus, there's the potential, with some government investment, to fix that problem. Maybe everyone doesn't get it, but most can. I believe towers with microwave repeaters could solve some of the problems.

Which comes to the last problem...someone is still going to have to invest some money from either Nunavut or the Government of Canada. The cable is going through Nunavut, but unless someone comes up with some cash, it's only going to land in two places, as I understand it. That being Iqaluit and Cambridge Bay (I find it amusing that the Iqaluit cable will link to Milton, Newfoundland, which is right outside of Clarenville. A place I mocked for years, even while working there, is potentially providing my internet. Oh lord). The cost could run more than $100 million.

Do it.

Seriously, I don't know who makes the decisions, but it's a steal. The Government of Canada makes a big deal about arctic sovereignty and economic develop in the north. Well, here's a gift. It's a big investment, but it can change the future of the territory more than just about any other investment they could make.

And seriously, screw Telsat and anyone else who provides satellite internet. It's been bad and getting worse for years. Xplorenet, which is what I use, is a fraction of what it was when we first got in 2.5 years ago. My three year contract is up in May, 2013. I'll keep using it until that fibre optic cable lands here. The day I can get internet via that route is the day I rip the dish off the side of my house. Satellite internet providers have had years to improve things, but did next to nothing because there was no competition and they were making big bucks off crap service. Now that there's serious competition, they're freaking out.

If all goes according to plan, there should be a fibre optic cable in Iqaluit by the end of 2014. It's two more years of this crap. But hey, it's a lot less years than I thought it would be. It's a gift. Please let us not be so stupid as to pass this up.

Last Five
1. Do you want to - Franz Ferdinand
2. A round again - Once
3. Don't tear me up - Mick Jagger*
4. On the bus mall - The Decemberists
5. Instant karma - Duran Duran


John, Perth AU said...

I'm all for improving communication infrastructure. (Google: NBN Australia.) But keep in mind that the people behind Arctic Fibre aren't doing this for the public good. They're doing it to make a profit. At any point the people behind it may decide they've made enough money (especially after government investment) and drop the thing, probably leaving some government agency with the debt.

The high frequency transaction stuff it's supposed to support is effectively making money from nothing, which is obviously unsustainable in the long run, from simple conservation principles (like Mass and Energy). I believe a lot more in the NBN (which I believe in just barely) than Arctic Fibre.

My prediction: It will never happen. Sorry.

Adam Snider said...

If this actually happens, it seems to make sense that the Feds could throw some money at the branch lines. If they're serious about developing the North, improving communications infrastructure seems like a wise investment.