Hundreds of Yukoners nationwide are on the brink of losing the internet, while the federal government is simultaneously spending millions to get other areas up to speed.
Neil Fletcher is pleading with governments to partner with Internet service provider Xplornet to “keep us connected” to the Internet, given the lack of options.
“We are not asking for the moon on a stick,” he said by phone on June 28 via Skype.
“Please don’t take us out, because there is no alternative.”
In a June 9th message sent to some customers and to the NewsXplornet said it will end Internet services on December 31.
“You are currently receiving internet from a satellite network that will soon be unsupported,” the message reads.
The notice provides two options for customers: no setup fees to switch to alternative Xplornet services, or assistance in identifying other service providers in the area.
The Yukon government told the News an estimated 290 Yukon customers will be affected, although that doesn’t reflect the actual number of people who rely on it.
Fletcher and his wife rely on that service for work and private purposes. He lives off-grid and off-road in a log cabin on the banks of the Yukon River, about 70 miles downstream from Dawson City. For him, there is no cell service and no landlines to stay connected.
A small business owner and member of the board of directors of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Development Corporation, Fletcher said he relies on the Internet to make phone calls and submit reports, as well as for banking, obtaining medical services and communicating with his family and friends.
“The crazy thing is, there’s no real reason why Xplornet couldn’t continue this service, and this is the crux of the problem here,” Fletcher said.
“The point for us is we have to fix this — and quickly.”
Meanwhile, on June 2, the federal government announced that “every home” on Prince Edward Island will be connected to high-speed internet, thanks to a $20 million federal-provincial partnership.
On June 3, the federal government pledged $55 million to provide high-speed internet to nearly 11,000 homes in New Brunswick.
The federal and Alberta governments announced on June 20 that nearly $500,000 would be spent getting high-speed internet for 280 homes in West Bragg Creek, Alta.
The governments of Canada and Quebec announced on June 17 that they have invested more than $1.1 million to provide high-speed internet to 1,171 rural Quebec households.
As for the Yukon, Fletcher said the difference between a slow Internet connection like he has now and no Internet connection is “life-changing” for him.
“It seems unfair,” he said.
In a statement, a company representative emailed on June 29 said service is being terminated because the ground station equipment has exceeded its expected lifespan and cannot be replaced or upgraded.
The rep explained that two years ago, Xplornet announced that the service would end on December 31, 2020 for a “small number” of customers. That decision was then reversed and the service was extended for another two years to better serve customers and give them plenty of time to find alternative options, the representative said.
The company said nearly half of affected customers in the area will have alternative solutions.
“We have begun to remind remaining customers of this change so that they can explore other service options well in advance of the winter break,” the statement said.
Luka Vujic, press secretary of the office of Rural Economic Development Minister Gudie Hutchings, said in a June 29 statement that the federal government “understands that high-speed internet access is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.”
“We are working closely with our partners to resolve this issue,” said Vujic.
Vujic said federal and territorial governments are trying to avoid disruption of services for Yukoners.
“All options are on the table to find a quick solution and ensure Yukoners are not left behind.”
The statement indicates that the FBI has spent more than $58 million on connectivity projects in the Yukon since 2015.
Krysten Johnson, who works in communications for the Yukon Roads and Public Works Department, acknowledged by email on June 28 that while “the administration, regulation and delivery of satellite services is ultimately the responsibility of the Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon the importance of connectivity across rural Yukon and continues to advocate for Yukoners as best we can.”
“While we were informed that Starlink would be available to Yukoners this year, we now understand that Starlink availability to the far north has been delayed until sometime in 2023,” Johnson’s statement read.
The statement said Secretary of State Nils Clarke “has reconnected” with his federal counterpart in Innovation, Science and Economic Development to express concerns about the services being terminated given limited alternatives available.
Contact Dana Hatherly at [email protected]