When designers at a small media company in Iqaluit have a digital file to send to a local client for proofing, they save it on a USB stick, get in the car, and drive over.
Sending files to clients outside of Iqaluit becomes "a real issue," explains Tony Romito, co-owner of Atiigo Media, a company that specializes in print and Web design. Rather than using a file transfer protocol (FTP) site, Atiigo will send the project using snail mail, which can add weeks to the project's timeline. Still, it's often the best option in a territory with prohibitively expensive Internet services.
Mr. Romito and other members of Nunavut's business community are keeping a close eye on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing under way in Gatineau. Canada's telecom regulator is hearing from more than 90 intervenors, including municipal and regional governments, non-profit organizations, businesses and Internet service providers as it assesses the level of telecommunication services Canadians require to do business in a digital world.
With no terrestrial infrastructure linking Nunavut with the rest of Canada, the territory relies on satellite Internet provided by one or – in some communities – a handful of Internet service providers. The price of the service and the amount of bandwidth available varies greatly.
Mr. Romito said because of the lack of regulation, his company pays more than $1,000 a month for "bare minimum service." He said although his staff of six are constantly monitoring their Internet usage, Atiigo always exceeds its 120-gigabyte limit by the third week of the month and ends up paying "obscene" overage fees.
"As a business that relies heavily on the Internet, we cannot simply cease operations for a week," Mr. Romito said.
The limited bandwidth and slow speed of the Internet cause a lot of headaches for Charlie Cahill, who owns a construction company in the community of Gjoa Haven, about 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
"Without a doubt, it's a lot more work trying to use e-mail up North than it is in the South," he said. "I spend a lot of my day just fooling around with resizing stuff."
Like Atiigo, Mr. Cahill's CAP Enterprises pays monthly Internet bills of about $1,000, but Mr. Cahill's bigger issue is the time he wastes working around the bandwidth problems. With all of the paperwork required for government contracts, he estimates he spends up to two hours a day just altering documents and photos to keep his e-mails under the two-megabyte limit. If he has a lot documents to send on a given day, he'll get online early in the morning when there are fewer people competing for bandwidth.
"Almost like dial-up, [the Internet] slows right down at night," he said.
A non-profit organization that provides support to small businesses in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut says businesses need more bandwidth than they are getting.
"Speed is probably more of an annoyance than anything," said Marg Epp, executive director of Kitikmeot Community Futures in Cambridge Bay. "It's the bandwidth that's the bigger issue for businesses. And the cost of that bandwidth is just so astronomical."
Ms. Epp said local Internet service providers are "all over the map" in terms of their pricing and service and thinks more regulation by the CRTC would level the playing field. She said she knows of more than one occasion when a business lost out on a contract because of the unreliability of sending large documents by e-mail or fax.
"It's definitely a huge disadvantage." Ms. Epp said sending documents by air doesn't always work either, because bad weather can delay flights for days.
For Atiigo Media, the slow speed and high cost has always been an unfortunate aspect of doing business in Nunavut.
"[We] have a lot of experience teaching our clients what is realistic and what is not realistic for a website in Nunavut that's being viewed in Nunavut," Mr. Romito said. That means limitations on the use of "fancy applications" and video.
Mr. Romito said most of Atiigo's clients understand the local Internet issues and the impact on costs.
"We have a good client base in Iqaluit and people appreciate work being done in the North by Northerners," he said but concedes: "We lose projects here and there from the clients that are simply looking at the bottom line."
The CRTC hearing continues in Gatineau until Apr. 28.