The North and the Internet

The following post is something I wrote on Nora Young's Spark blog. I have been a fan of Nora's for awhile now, she used to be the weekly tech columnist for our show in Quebec City. Now she's got a show/blog/website/podcast of her own. Initially, she was asking what people use telephone books for these days (are they outdated etc.). My response was up here, they're not. I use mine several times a day. But maybe that's just because I'm a journalist. And most groups up here don't have websites. They have listings in the phone book.

She then asked me to share how northern communities use the web. The following is my response, and I thought it would make a fitting entry for people not familiar with the way the internet works "up north"



I have to admit, the way I use the web up north is much different than "down south" (south, of course, being anything below that Nunavut-NWT-Yukon belt).

To understand why, you need a little background:

Up here (and I'm speaking specifically about Nunavut in this case) we have satellite internet. Or dial-up. The satellite internet phenomenon is a pretty recent one. Each of our 25 communities has a satellite which receives and distributes wireless signals to subscribers. Subscribers are given a portable modem, which can be used in any community, to hook into. Distributing bandwidth in this way is VERY expensive. But there's no other way. Every community is a fly-in community. No roads, so no fiber-optic cable being laid across the tundra.

Because of this, the WAY we use the internet is very different. Limited bandwidth (and its costs: $60 for 2 gigabytes, $120 for 5 gigabytes, $400 for 20 gigabytes) rules your usage. Once you hit your monthly limit, you get knocked down to dial-up speeds (though the max speed on the lowest plan up here is 256 kbps).

So what does that mean?

Mostly: No downloads. Sure, you can get the occasional song/album off itunes but popular "file sharing" programs can't connect, so there's no downloading television shows, movies etc.

We don't stream videos, we don't really listen to online radio stations. We do our business, then get offline.

And what kind of business might that be?

Email, banking and ONLINE SHOPPING.

Email: well you have to keep in contact with the outside world!

Banking: most of the smaller communities don't have actual bank branches. So they cash their paycheques at the local Co-op or have it directly deposited on a bank card they've set up when "down south" or in one of the larger communities.

ONLINE SHOPPING: This one is in bold because "southerners" who move "up north" often fall victim to this one... and find themselves with a healthy addiction on their hands....

Lack of actual stores/malls/much of anything else besides a grocery store means people rely quite heavily on mail-order. Need a new pair of jeans? You could try the Northern Store... or ae.com. Did the co-op run out of your favorite shampoo and conditioner? Try well.ca!

Of course there are more ways we use the internet that are different from you "southerners" (for example, we have a very interesting Northern Blogging network) but those are just a few.

It's a strange, wild world we've got up here :)


towniebastard September 29, 2008 at 3:01 PM  

In Iqaluit you can download TV shows and movies. Yes, it requires patience as one hour TV show can take up to 5 hours or so to download. And at least here the gb limit is different. I have a 10 gb limit. So I could, if I wanted to, download 10 or 20 one hour TV shows a month and be in good shape.

They also don't slow down your speeds if you go over your limit...they just charge you more. I believe it is 2 cents a mb, which can obviously add up in a hurry.

I realize Iqaluit has that luxury the rest of Nunavut doesn't, but I figured I'd give you the perspective from here.

Jackie S. Quire September 29, 2008 at 3:09 PM  

Holy crap! I didn't realize how different it was in Iqaluit!

We can buy additional bandwidth too, but they have it set up so it's an option (you have to go online or call) instead of an automatic. I think I prefer it as an option.

I've become more "legit" since moving up here. I now buy/rent seasons of TV shows/DVDs instead of pirating them (because I've got no other option haha).

Thanks for the additional info, TB!