Arctic Connectivity

The lack of digital infrastructure in the Arctic negatively impacts business development, local communities, digital governance and health and education provision. For instance, in the Canadian Arctic, the Nunavut population is entirely dependent on satellite services for navigation and communication. Resource developments such as mines, oil and gas projects, as well as service industries need access to modern telecommunications. The Arctic region requires improved connectivity by subsea fiber cables and satellites. Capital- intensive projects demand careful consortium- building and secured financing from the initial stage outset. 

There have been several initiatives to enhance connectivity in the Arctic. 

In U.S. Arctic. Quintillion is a leading infrastructure provider of broadband connectivity, satellite ground station operations, big data and cloud services. In 2017 it was the first and only telecommunications operator to build a submarine and terrestrial fiber optic cable network in the U.S. Arctic. It provides broadband access at a substantially lower cost than existing satellite and microwave capabilities. 

In 2019, Quintillion Networks and ATLAS Space Operations announced plans for North America's highest latitude ground station, to be located 250 miles inside the Arctic Circle in Utqiagvik, Alaska. This partnership will bring availability, capacity, bandwidth and low latency to LEO satellites on multiple existing and planned fiber routes to major global internet exchanges. Upon its completion in the first quarter of 2020, the new Quintillion- ATLAS 3.7meter ground station will be put to use immediately by the US Government and commercial customers. 

In the Canadian Arctic. Canada has announced an $85 million initiative to improve connectivity in the northern province of Nunavut. Canada is expected to lay a new submarine cable connecting Nunavut to Greenland and a network of onward connectivity, bringing high- speed internet services to 3,215 homes and businesses in Nunavut. The 1,700km long cable will provide residents with broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. The expected date of completion is 2023.[196]

In the Nordic and Russian Arctic. The Russian company Megafon, in cooperation with Finnish Cinia, established a joint- venture, Arctic Connect, to lay a submarine telecommunications cable across the Arctic Sea. The international project would create a completely new route to connect continents and also to fulfil the connectivity requirements of the Arctic region. According to preliminary estimates, the project could cost in the region of $778 million to $1.11 billion depending on the final design, the number of possible branches and/or extensions to the main system from Europe to Asia.[197] Preparations for marine surveys started in August 2020 and ended in November. Actual work could begin as early as 2022. The reinforced cable will be laid from the Norwegian city of Kirkenes to Kyotango, Japan. The trunk cable to Murmansk, Teriberka, Sabetta, Dikson, Dudinka, Tiksi, Khatanga, Yamburg, Pevek, Anadyr, Petropavlovsk- Kamchatsky, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Vladivostok and Nakhodka will branch out to reach other Arctic territories. 

In 2020 Russia started its own state-led $0.86 billion worth, 12,000 km long subsea cable project from Murmansk to Vladivostok with landing lines to the largest ports and settlements along the Russian Arctic zone. The project is being implemented by the Ministry of Transport of Russia, the Federal Agency for Sea and River Transport "Rosmorrechflot" and Federal State Unitary Enterprise "Rosmorport". The Federal State Unitary Enterprise "Morsvyazsputnik" has been identified as the operator of the cable.[198] The first section of the cable from Teriberka to Amderma is planned to be launched in 2021. The project is estimated to be completed by 2026. The subsea cable will help boost industrial activity such as production and transportation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic, solving geological exploration problems, and providing an alternative to satellite communications for northern latitudes. The availability of reliable connectivity solutions is crucial in the development of the Northern Sea Route infrastructure and providing Arctic residents with fast Internet. 

Improved digital infrastructure will benefit Arctic communities and will attract new industries, e.g., data centre operators and knowledge/intensive industries that require reliable connectivity.