Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007
NUNAVUT - The Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation is taking the Qulliq Energy Corporation to court in a dispute over access to QINIQ satellite sites.
Since 2005, the QINIQ network has provided Internet service across the territory.
Workers install a dish for the QINIQ broadband network in Resolute Bay in 2005. - photo courtesy of SSI Micro
Qulliq banned SSI Micro, the Yellowknife firm which maintains the QINIQ network, from performing any upgrades on the equipment in May.
SSI Micro can still access the sites for basic repairs, but has delayed a major maintenance and upgrade trip scheduled for the summer because of the ban.
"This project has been one of the most major infrastructure projects done in Nunavut in recent years," said Ryan Walker, manager of SSI's solutions group.
"For a Crown corporation to step in at this stage...they're hurting the local economy and preventing us from doing our jobs, and I honestly don't understand. Nobody understands. Everybody loses."
The Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation (NBDC) filed a statement of claim with the Nunavut Court of Justice on June 13, asking the court to order Qulliq to lift the ban.
Twenty-four of 25 QINIQ sites are located on Qulliq land, as per a lease agreement negotiated in 2004.
In a second agreement, Qulliq also agreed to sell its interest in telecommunications equipment including 10 dishes.
Although both parties went ahead with installation and other work as planned, the deal was never finalized, as no money has reportedly changed hands.
"Our position is now that they moved into our plants and sites in 2005, and haven't paid," said Qulliq president Anne Crawford. "It's like if someone moved into your house in 2005 and hasn't paid for it yet, and now they want to put a new porch on it."
According to Lorraine Thomas, secretary-treasurer of NBDC, the broadband corporation never received the net book value of the assets, which it requires as a not-for-profit public entity to spend the funds.
"We're a public institute. We report to a board who reports to the public. We can't go out and spend the money until we know the value of what we are buying," said Thomas.
Crawford disputed that claim, saying it has provided NBDC with the value a number of times.
Thomas said the list was not inventoried.
According to Walker, service disruptions are imminent.
"Every day that goes on it becomes harder and costlier to maintain," he said.
QINIQ provides Internet connections to communities across the territory, which would not otherwise be able to access a regular, land-based service.
"It has become a critical component of community life. More and more it is used for online banking, online shopping, travel booking, the ability to take control of actually picking the services that you want," said Patrick Tagoona, an NBDC board member who lives in Rankin Inlet.
"My daughter is going to college in the fall... she has used the Internet for online research and projects... and was also able to keep in contact with one of her best friends in Baker Lake, with e-mail and messenger."
The QINIQ service was launched in May 2005, with major federal funding through Industry Canada and Infrastructure Canada.
According to Lise Picknell, manager of Industry Canada's broadband program, a similar partnership dispute between Nova Scotia-based Western Valley Development Authority and a private telecommunications company resulted in the dissolution of a high-speed Internet service in that province.
"Let's hope that doesn't happen here," Picknell said. "For the sake of the Canadian people, let's hope they do (resolve it)."