Keynotes Elizabeth Pearce, President and CEO of Quintillion (USA), and J.P. Joensuu, Executive Advisor & CLO, Cinia Group (FINLAND) highlighted the enormous potential of proposed fiber optic routes connecting Europe and Eastern Asia through both the Northwest and Northeast Passages through the Arctic.

Seafarers have been using the Northwest Passage for centuries. In the summer, when the ice melts, the narrow route through Canada’s northern archipelago reduces travel time for modern ships by an estimated four days compared to going via the Panama Canal. Quintillion’s northern fiber route will provide a solution to the global demand for redundancy and diverse fiber optic cable routes taking advantage of the same short-cut, connecting London to Tokyo.

The Northeast Passage submarine fibre cable connection, Arctic Connect, Joensuu explained, has been a subject of investigation for a number of years. The system’s submarine section would consist of an approximately 10,500 kilometre connection from Japan and China to Kirkkoniemi in Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. It would create the fastest physical telecommunications route from Asia to Northern and Central Europe via Norway, Russia, and Finland. It’s execution would demand international commitment from, at the very least, Russia, China, Japan, Norway and the relevant EU countries.

Indigenous leaders from the North contributed to a panel on Indigenous Perspectives moderated by Patrick Savok (USA), Chief of Staff, of the Northwest Arctic Borough, tackling questions related to everything from access, to culture, to indigenous self determination. Ian Erlich (USA), President of Invoke360, and Cheryl Stine (USA), Executive Vice President of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation emphasized the enormous economic opportunity that broadband presents indigenous communities by putting them on a level playing field with the rest of the world noting that technology breaks downs barriers and bridges geographical isolations.

Other panelists, Debbie Brisebois (CANADA), Executive Director of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and Darrell Ohakannoak (CANADA), President of Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation discussed the power of technology to tell one’s story and use technology’s reach to spread the indigenous perspective through radio, television, Internet and social media.

Panelists agreed, however, that access to affordable, high speed broadband was key to accessing educational, healthcare, and economic opportunities in remote, rural communities.

According to Okalik Eegeesiak, Chair Inuit Circumpolar Conference Canada, “to truly walk in the 21st century, Inuit and the Arctic need improved connectivity. Improved connectivity in the Arctic will support sustainable development for Inuit. Improved connectivity is a critical pillar to providing Inuit and all Arctic residents with needed economic options that align with environmental and social aspirations and that are compatible with a future Inuit aspire to, towards fairness, self determination, and equity. Connectivity is also critical for search-and-rescue and necessary for research in the region. Well-functioning communication networks will allow better access to education, healthcare, and commerce, as well as enhance citizens’ participation in civic life and improve delivery of services.” be continued in Part 2.

The Arctic Broadband Forum 2017 was hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and was a key initiative of the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Telecommunications and Networking.