Cables in Nunavik, “a lever for improving living conditions” | Polarjournal
Canada’s Nunavut region (here Iqaluit) and Nunavik have similar connectivity needs. Image: Michael Delaunay

Three new communities in the Eastern Hudson Bay region have been connected to the fibre-optic network, according to an announcement by Hilda Snowball, President of the Kativik region, on Monday. This is the second stage of a three-part project, the first of which was completed in 2022, with the next stage finalizing the connection of 14 communities to high-speed internet by 2025. The EAUFON project is publicly funded with CAD 165 million.

Michael Delaunay, political scientist and expert on submarine cables in the Arctic, explains why such efforts have been made. He studied the sociological impacts of the Internet in Nunavut as part of his thesis, and is now working on the use of fiber optic submarine cables for ocean monitoring and surveillance of maritime territories. He will be at a conference in Ottawa from June 21 to 22 with the Observatoire de la politique et la sécurité de l’Arctique (OPSA). Image : Michael Delaunay

You’ve studied the impact of connectivity among the Inuit of Nunavut. What do you expect in Nunavik?

What turned out true in Nunavut is that, in the long term, access to the Internet, particularly as it improves, provides better access to social networks and to all modes of expression, and allows the Inuit of this region to make their voices heard and to influence public policy within the federal state. That’s my analysis for Nunavut, and I’d have to verify it for Nunavik, but I truly believe it applies there.

This saves money that is no longer needed for satellites, but can be invested in other areas such as food security and housing construction. The connection also facilitates long-distance healthcare for regions with no hospitals and few or no doctors. This requires a very stable network, as undersea cables can provide, unlike satellites. It also brings remote schooling and training to areas where there are no universities and no easy access to education.

What are the repercussions?

The lack of access to high-speed Internet and the absence of a university has had an impact on the communities, and the Inuit have little access to formal education. As a result, very few Inuit have the necessary training to take up responsible positions in their own administrations. These positions are taken by westerners from the South, who then decide on the public policies upon which the Inuit depend. It’s important for them to get an appropriate long-distance education, and to be able to decide on their own regional policy on language, for example, or childcare.

How did this project get off the ground in Nunavik?

The EAUFON project was born out of a 2016 report by Jean-François Dumoulin, then employed by the Kativik Regional Government (KRG) – the administration that manages Nunavik. It showed that submarine cable connection is cheaper than satellite in the long term, in addition to its economic and social benefits. As a result, the project was financed 100% by public funds from Quebec and the federal government. For implementation, Nunavik has its own telecom operator (Tamaani), and there are no private companies providing connectivity.

The first two cables of the EAUFON project are now in service. In the Hudson Bay area, Nunavik is connected. Image: Screenshot / Submarinecablemap

In this respect, they are more independent than the Inuit of Nunavut; they decide the network profile themselves, which is already very important in terms of technological sovereignty. They face other challenges, such as food security, suicide and tuberculosis, but they choose to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in cables. Submarine cable connectivity is a lever for improving living conditions as well as saving money.

Do Inuit call for high-speed Internet access?

In the Hudson Bay region, the Inuit are really looking for a better connection, and in Nunavik, they’re just as connected as in Nunavut. And in Alaska, they’re very keen on it. It’s interesting to see that this demand spans regions and borders. The Internet isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of regional development, but when you’re far from all the services, there are lots of things you can’t do.

The socio-economic benefits will be measured in the long term, but one billion will be invested in connectivity in Alaska, particularly in submarine cables, and Greenland should soon have a third cable. Alaska, Nunavik, Greenland… there’s something happening in the Arctic. Finally, cable projects are taking shape for the benefit of local populations.

Interview by Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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