Coman Get It

May 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

At a conference held in Iqaluit last year, a new player in the broadband market made history – or so it claims. “We were the last ones to present,” recalls Chris Callahan, co-owner of Iqaluit-based Coman Communications. “Everyone else had been going on about the cost of doing business in the North, the lack of infrastructure … And we got up there (we had a dish installed outside) and said, ‘Okay. Everyone turn on your 4G phones.’ You could hear a pin drop.”

Since then, Coman and partner Juch-Tech, a Hamilton, Ont.-based satellite provider, have been offering free public WiFi at four locations in downtown Iqaluit. Their ultimate aim? Offering internet service providers in Nunavut an alternate source for broadband.

Right now Telesat is the only satellite provider in Nunavut. Though it technically doesn’t hold a monopoly on Arctic broadband, Callahan argues that functionally, it still does. “They control the teleport; they control the satellite; they control the redistribution within the communities. At the consumer level, people can choose between three or four internet service providers.” But considering satellite is the only option for internet in the territory, what does that matter, Callahan asks, if Telesat still holds a monopoly at the source?

Telesat has been providing telecommunications to the North since 1972. Callahan argues that much of the capacity on the three satellites servicing the Eastern Arctic is high frequency, which means they’re more susceptible to interference in poor weather. SES , the satellite provider that Callahan and Juch-Tech are using, has four to six satellites positioned to serve the Arctic, with a capacity that is predominantly low frequency (read: better). And in the aftermath of a scary telecommunications blackout two years ago, the argument for a hardier internet link is likely to resonate with Nunavummiut. Callahan is also playing the grandfather card: Coman Arctic is one of the territory’s oldest companies, started by Callahan’s father-in-law in 1963.

“[Coman’s] demonstration in October was neat,” says Paul Bush, senior vice president at Telesat. “But it wasn’t monumental. What was monumental was when we brought television to the North; when we brought radio to the North.” He says that without government subsidies, servicing the entire Eastern Arctic would simply be too expensive to turn a profit. “The monumental events have passed,” says Bush. “What we need now are incremental changes.”

Callahan, who’s negotiating contracts with at least two companies, maintains he made history, but what he’s proposing is not monumental. “It’s competition,” he says. “Simple as that. People are asking me, ‘Why are you getting into this?’ Well, why are you asking? Why did nobody reach out to see if there was another satellite provider? Maybe you could find it cheaper.”

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