Making a Difference

A warming Arctic brings change. Change is not itself a solution, though it does create opportunity that comes with its own challenges. Overcoming these challenges depends on a three-pronged strategy for economically and technologically sustainable Arctic broadband deployments: technological innovation, empowering public policies, and anchor tenant economics.

More than ever today, the Arctic is a place where the success of one leads to the success of another. When we join forces to identify and advance the opportunities for the Arctic region, we strengthen the business case for investment for the benefit of everyone.

International Broadband Projects

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 Subsea’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.

CEO Elizabeth Pierce detailed the progress noting that construction is nearly complete on the first segment of the multi-phase subsea cable system. Phase 1 – Alaska is a 1200 mile submarine fiber optic cable main trunk line between Nome and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Additional branches are installed into the Alaskan communities of Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik (Barrow).

The Quintillion Cable System, a new terrestrial fiber between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, has been installed along the Dalton Highway and is now in service. At Fairbanks, the new fiber connects to existing networks reaching Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, providing fiber link between the Continental United States and the North American Arctic.

Phase 2 of this project will connect Alaska to Asia, landing in Tokyo, Japan and Phase 3 will complete the project by connecting Alaska east to London establishing the first pan-arctic fiber route between Europe and Asia.

J.P. Joensuu , Executive Advisor & CLO for the Cinia Group of Finland detailed another pan-Arctic solution that would also add to global diversification.
The Northeast Passage submarine fibre cable connection, Arctic Connect, 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. This project, still in the planning stage, would demand international commitment from, at the very least, Russia, China, Japan, Norway and the relevant EU countries.

Should both these projects come to fruition, that would create a high-speed circumpolar fiber ring that could transform global communications.

National and Local Efforts

Curtis Shaw, Vice-President for Consumer Markets for Northwestel in Canada discussed the challenges of delivering broadband services in remote, sparsely populated areas of northern Canada.

The people of Canada’s North make up only 0.3% of the country’s population and are spread out over 4 million square kilometres of rugged terrain, almost 1/3 of Canada’s land mass. Northwestel strives to bring them together.

They connect the North through innovation—by supporting the development of advanced communications and entertainment solutions that reach further and provide better service for its customers. They serve over 121,000 people in 96 communities—46 of which are only accessible by air. It’s a vast and diverse audience. 70% of these communities have less than 500 people, while 40% of all our customers live in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit—the engines of business and government in the North.
Shaw emphasized a multi-technological approach to broadband delivery that included increased deployment of 4G as well as the expansion and redundancy of fiber optic routes throughout northern Canada.

Tina Pidgeon, General Counsel for GCI in Alaska, told the tales of two Arctics: one urban, one rural. In Rural Alaska, the challenges are many in attempting to deliver broadband: geography, distance, environment, and low population. Remote regions of Alaska historically receive their communications services (e.g. phone, television, and Internet) over high-cost and high-latency satellite connections. In 2009, GCI envisioned the creation of a next-generation communications network, known as TERRA--Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska-- for all areas of Alaska that would provide equitable access to low-latency broadband service.
TERRA is a hybrid terrestrial fiber-optic and microwave network that removes the limitations of satellite and provides symmetrical broadband service to Alaska’s remote and rural regions. With a direct land-based connection to Anchorage and the Internet, the TERRA network delivers critical bandwidth to numerous public, nonprofit, and private entities such as regional health corporations, school districts, native organizations, and residents.
Today, GCI has delivered on this vision in 72 communities in western Alaska. Going into tomorrow, GCI plans to expand the TERRA network to more underserved communities throughout the state.

ORION is dedicated exclusively to supporting research, education and innovation (RE&I) in Ontario. ORION provides high-speed connectivity to its connected institutions, linking them to each other and to a global grid of research and education networks.

ORION is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering Ontario researchers, educators and innovators. They facilitate ground-breaking discoveries and cutting-edge education by connecting institutions and regions across the province, providing them with the digital tools and expertise they need, and advocating on their behalf.
According to its President and CEO, Alfonso Licata, ORION seeks to enable and support Ontario innovators in their efforts to make the world a better place.
Acting as a champion for the innovation community, ORION offers the critical infrastructure necessary for collaboration, providing researchers, educators and innovators with the tools and connections they need in order to make pioneering discoveries and provide cutting-edge education.

As a not-for-profit organization, ORION’s primary focus is the ground-breaking work of its community. ORION’s network links more than 2 million users, including access to advanced computing projects across Ontario.

As a northern-based company led by Jeff Philipp, who grew up in a town of 700 people in the NWT, SSi Micro has always had a keen understanding of what people in remote communities need.

Today, SSi has built (in northern terms) a large, successful business delivering broadband services to all 25 Nunavut communities with the same service at the same price. Listening, and taking direction from the people we serve is the key to success.

Lorraine Thomas, Community Outreach and Development Coordinator for SSi cited specific examples of Inuit and northern concepts that have been embraced by SSi in the development and delivery of broadband services. While some of the concepts may seem counter-intuitive for those used to the telecom model of the past, SSi has forged an alternative path for long-term success in the north.

SSi worked side by side with the communities they serve embracing many of the cultural values of their constituents to develop a partnership in the deployment of advanced telecommunications services realizing that their vision could only be realized through respect for and collaboration with the communities they serve;
SSi believes any solution must benefit each community served with new employment and skills training opportunities, contributing to social and economic development; that SSi’s culture must be one of transparency, honesty and inclusion in all of our dealings; and that their network must be innovative and technology-current, ensuring that remote northern communities receive the best possible service.

In 2016-2017, SSi upgraded its northern network with state-of-the-art 4G-LTE technology, allowing new services such as mobile voice and data with global roaming services, more robust residential Internet, telemetry applications like smart metering and remote access security systems, and hi-definition videoconferencing.

Get involved

Keeping the conversation going is vital in the development and deployment of broadband solutions for ALL residents of the Arctic. The projects and presenters gathered in Fairbanks were only a small representation of the great work being done around the globe by citizens, governments and industry to provide access to even the most remote areas of the Arctic.

This series would not be complete without mentioning some of the collaborative, international efforts at tackling the tough issues facing Arctic broadband.

Under the leadership of Tara Sweeney, Executive Vice President of External Affairs for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Robert McDowell, Former FCC Commissioner and Partner, Cooley LLP, the Telecommunication Infrastructure Working Group of the Arctic Economic Council unveiled its report "Arctic Broadband. Recommendations for an Interconnected Arctic" on January 24, 2017 during the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø. This report is the first of its kind. The report explores how each Arctic state defines broadband, and the goals each has established for broadband deployment, as well as the overarching societal benefits of broadband. The document also discusses the challenges that must be considered and surmounted in order to expand broadband in the Arctic, and both funding options and past, current and proposed broadband deployment projects are explored.

The Arctic Council’s Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic presented its findings, Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic: A Circumpolar Assessment to the Council in May of 2017. This report identifies the myriad of technological solutions in place throughout the Arctic that are and can deliver broadband today. It also identifies gaps that could serve as a starting point for the exploration of pan-Arctic solutions to the still present, digital divide.

Stay connected, stay informed and keep the conversation going.

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. #tabf2017 All forum materials can be found at