Huawei heats up the battle for internet in Canada’s north

Huawei says it wants to bring high-speed internet to Canada’s north. But some people are worried this gift from China could be a Trojan Horse.

Want to watch the latest viral hit on YouTube? Transfer money online? Video chat with your grandma?

Don’t hold your breath if you live in Iqaluit, say residents of the city of 7,500, which is located just over 300km (186 miles) from the Arctic Circle.

“It’s still very fragile, a single event can cause a mass outage where people can’t send or receive emails, people can’t get money out of the bank machine, people can’t buy gasoline or groceries at the store,” says the mayor, Madeleine Redfern.

Iqaluit is not the only place waiting to get online.

According to the Canadian government, about 5.4 million people, or 15% of the population, don’t have high-speed internet – and most of them live in the north or in remote, rural areas.

For decades, corporate investment in building digital infrastructure in rural and remote areas has lagged, which means that while the rest of the country has been racing full-force into the digital era, places like Iqaluit have been treading water.

“You can’t stop simply because you’ve met a certain level of service. You have to keep up, otherwise you fall behind,” Redfern says.

Fixing the problem has become a key promise in the Liberal government’s campaign for re-election in October.

The government has promised to bring high-speed internet access to every household by 2031, and last year’s budget pledged a total of C$6bn ($4.5bn, £3.7bn) to help close this connectivity divide, including $1.7bn in new funding.

That puts a bullseye on the north as several companies vie for public funding to build everything from satellites to fibre optic cables.