It’s 2007. The Yukon is still an internet backwater

Yukon Internet ShackRoughly a decade ago a backhoe dug up some cables in Fort St. John and cut the Yukon off from the internet.

I wonder what’s caused it tonight?

Well, it’s the morning, actually. 1 am to be precise.

I’ve only just managed to get my toddler’s sweltering fever down and him asleep. I’d planned to sneak away for a few hours and finish up some research for this column, which was originally about the future of computer user interfaces. But it seems that won’t be happening. I can’t load any web pages other than the Yukon Government’s or Northwestel’s (read: local stuff).

So instead I’m forced to explore why Yukoners must still endure only one internet connection that continues to be legendary for its lack of stability.

I’ve long been a critic of the fact that the Yukon’s economy is hampered by that single internet pipe. When it goes down, the Yukon goes down.

People will tell you that this is a geographic reality. It’s impossible to access an independent network that’s not physically related to the one we currently have, right? After all, look at our highway system: one road in.

That’s bullocks. Geography is irrelevant.

In 1996, a local internet provider I worked for set up a second high-speed connection via Juneau, Alaska. The Yukon’s primary pipe went dark several times back then (it was around the time of the infamous backhoe incident), but we continued to enjoy internet at the office.

It’s eleven years later. I can’t load Google.

Truly, any community serious about its economy would have dealt with this by now.

Because we’re a one-pipe territory, I’ve long espoused hosting business web sites outside the Yukon. As a result, I’m often perceived as lacking in support for local industry. But it’s times like this that my recommendations are vindicated.

If your business currently hosts its web site in the Yukon, it’s suffering irreversible economic damage as I write this column. Clients are trying to learn about you, but they can’t. People are trying to buy stuff, but they can’t. They’re going somewhere else, to your competitors. Your business’ name is nothing but an empty browser window to them now.

They won’t try to visit again.

Even for information professionals such as myself, internet service outages can have economic consequences.

Take this column, for example; if I’d stuck to my original topic I’d be out some cold, hard cash because I can’t access the information required to complete it. Fortunately, the situation presented a reasonable alternative subject. I’m turning lemons into lemonade.

On the other hand, I’d also planned to perform some research for another project I’m working on. That’s clearly out the window. I’ll still be out several hundred dollars by morning.

What I find especially interesting is that Northwestel has no clue there’s even an outage right now.

I called the operator (all calls go to the operator at this hour, apparently) and asked about the situation. She was very polite and nice and went away and checked on things for me. As far as Northwestel is concerned, everything’s cool.

Obviously following protocol, she filed a “trouble ticket” on my behalf and said someone would get back to me “later today.” There was no alarm bell. No emergency. She clearly meant the ball would start rolling after the morning coffee rush at Tim Horton’s.

Based on when my last email came in, the Yukon’s internet connection started failing at about 11:30 pm.

It’s now 3 am. In 2007. I can’t get Google. Northwestel’s techs are sleeping. Nobody’s waking them up.

Tonight’s experience is very telling. Despite the key role that the internet plays in the global economy, a reliable internet connection is not an issue to the Yukon’s powers-that-be.

We’re clearly a region content to be cut off from the world for hours at a time outside of local business hours — nevermind some of our key economic markets exist in far-removed time zones.

So what conclusion can I draw from this? On the internet, the Yukon is still a backwater. Online, as in the physical world, we’re a distant destination at the end of a long, slow road that too often washes out.

It doesn’t matter what knocked the Yukon off the internet tonight. The simple fact today is, if you’re offline, you’re irrelevant.

As I write this, the Yukon is irrelevant.

5 thoughts on “It’s 2007. The Yukon is still an internet backwater

  1. Word.

    It doesn’t help that our Premier (with almost 5 years left on his mandate) is a luddite. Some of the Federal infrastructure money sent to Yukon should be targeted to created a redundant link south.

    NWtel, who is in a monopoly situation has no will to create a secondary link unless of course another provider is posturing to move into the terrritory which probably won’t happen for 10 or 20 years at best.

    Many Yukoners are content living without the services they pay for. No power in the dead of winter? Oh, well. Cable TV shuts off during game 7 of the Stanley cup finals? Sigh. No long distance calling Christmas eve? Ho-hum. The business community and Joe/Jane Yukon should apply pressure to the-powers-that-be to get off their bloated arses and do something about it. Now.

  2. So if we had a fail-safe always working system – what would you:

    a) Be willing to pay for it?

    b) Bitch about then?

  3. Glen (Nicol?)

    The thing is, we are already paying for ‘it’.

    Middle of the road DSL from NWtel is $59 with a 10 GB cap. Or you can go up to $79 for a 20GB cap. The prices are close to double what you might expect to pay in the south. Anyone who uses the internet knows the trend is toward media intensive applications, audio, video and other interactive tools. NWtel and other local ISPs should be spending their money on fattening the pipe (and building redundancy) rather than putting up billing road blocks.

    Over at NWtel’s cousin Navigo you sign a contract, costs are lower and now cap (yet) bbut it looks like they have started packet shaping to throttle back file sharing apps.

    Out in the real world (competitive market) ISPs can’t get away with sticking it to their customers with high billing and shitty service.

    Case in point: NWtel sent out a note to all its customers that they will be experiencing email down time over the next month as they upgrade their mail server. Who needs a month to upgrade a mail server? no body in the real world, thats for sure.

  4. Heavy Sigh – I guess we should all move to the Real World – by the way – Where is that?

    And – Who Is Nicol?

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