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Communications in the North

Technical Series 94-222

Key Messages

  • This factsheet provides an overview of communication systems in the North.
  • Radio, satellite and microwave technology have made it possible to reach 74 communities spread over 3.9 million km2.
  • Telephone service is provided mainly by satellite with some communities served by microwave or radio link and mobile radio-telephone links.
  • There are 26 radio stations with capability of doing their own programming.
  • Television production facilities are located at Yellowknife, Iqualuit and Whitehorse.
  • Since 1983, 4 native communications societies have been funded to provide native programming: Northern Native Broadcasting in the Yukon, Native Communications Society in Western NWT, the Inuvaluit Communications Society in the Western Arctic and the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in the Eastern Arctic.

Telephone Service

Telephone service is provided in the North by two carriers. Bell Canada serves most of the area east of 102W longitude. West of this line and in most of the Arctic Islands, Northwest Tel is the provider. (Northwest Tel is owned by BCE Inc., the management holding company which also owns Bell Canada.) The administrative offices of Northwest Tel are located in Whitehorse, Yukon. Bell Canada maintains an office in Iqaluit. Telephone company rates in the North are regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Bell Canada

In the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories, there are 22 communities. Because they are all in remote locations Bell provides communications completely via satellite. They have full direct dialing. The Bell Canada directory, which covers the Northwest Territories, is trilingual - English, French and Inuktitut. Mobile service is available in some areas, served by bases at Iqaluit, Northwest Territories and Alma, Quebec. A range of telecommunications services is available, including data transmission and telex.

Northwest Tel

Northwest Tel provides service to 49 communities in all of Yukon and in the western portion of the Northwest Territories. Some terrestrial microwave is used for trunk routes in addition to satellite facilities. Eight small communities are served by radio telephone.

Serving Northwest Tel's 2.35 million km2 operating area are 8,690 km of microwave systems. There are a total of 32,000 network access lines, all of which have direct distance dialing capability.

There are over 100 manual mobile telephone base stations, located to provide optimum coverage of the major highways and the Mackenzie River transportation corridor. Northwest Tel also provides automated mobile radio coverage in the 400 MHz band in the Yellowknife, Lower Mackenzie, Dawson City and Inuvik areas. As well as voice transmission facilities, the network also provides telex, telegram, data transmission, manual and automated mobile service, facsimile and computer communications. In addition, program quality channels, i.e., bundles of channels which improve the quality or dynamic range of voice transmissions, are provided for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).


Radio in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories means both broadcast transmissions for information and entertainment, and radio-telephone, a voice communication medium. All are subject to CRTC regulations and licensing procedures.

Although many telephone conversations are carried over part of the route by radio link, the term radio-telephone is usually reserved for simplex systems. These are characterized by the use of a single channel shared in turn by the persons communicating, so that A listens while B speaks and vice versa. Both Bell Canada and Northwest Tel provide mobile radio-telephone service from many centres throughout the North. This provides an effective extension of the switched telephone network.

In addition to mobile telephone service, stand-alone radio-telephone is widely used. Equipment ranges from hand-held battery-operated transceivers operated under the provisions of the General Radio Service, to sophisticated equipment which keeps parts of a widely dispersed oil exploration company in touch with one another.

Both FM and AM signals are employed. Except for the very lowest power transceivers used in General Radio Service, all equipment must be licensed by the Department of Communications.

Radio and Television Broadcast Facilities

Radio and television broadcast facilities in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon are provided by two classes of station. Typical radio broadcast stations do much of their own programming, but also use network programs to provide national information. The other class includes radio and television rebroadcast or repeater transmission stations. Both types of stations are licensed by the CRTC.

The Northwest Territories has 16 radio broadcasting stations; the Yukon has 10. These stations have production facilities to originate their own programming. Some of this programming may be rebroadcast to other communities through repeater transmitters.

Also, Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Whitehorse have television production centres. Most television programming produced in the North is first sent to Toronto and then transmitted to Telesat's Anik D satellite through the CBC Network Control Centre. A facility in Iqaluit transmits/uplinks a television signal to a satellite. Repeater stations throughout the North access signals from the satellite.

These transmitters may also rebroadcast through a landline or microwave link. There are 55 radio rebroadcasting stations in the Northwest Territories; 28 in the Yukon. Also, the Northwest Territories has 78 television repeater stations; and the Yukon has 28.

When satellite technology emerged in 1981, it became possible for a cable system to access satellite signals. In 1989, nine communities had cable systems.

Radio and Television Programming

Providing an acceptable range of radio and television services for Canada's North is difficult. Community populations are small, often numbering in the hundreds. Whitehorse, with fewer than 20,000 people, is the largest community. Nevertheless, 73 other smaller communities over 3.9 million km2 have access to radio and/or television services. It is not enough to broadcast international and national news to these remote places. Northerners also need accurate and current local information to help them make decisions on issues such as major resource development, resolution of aboriginal rights and native land claims, and the constitutional development of the territories.

Since 1983 there have been efforts to enhance and protect aboriginal languages and cultures through native broadcasting. The Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP), approved by the Federal Cabinet in March 1983, and administered by the Department of The Secretary of State, funds 13 native communication societies across Canada.

Support is provided for capital equipment, on-going operational expenditures and staff salaries. In 1988-89, $4,950,000 was given for operations and $63,515 for capital equipment. The total native listening audience is about 40,000. Amounts provided for operations and capital have varied according to need over the years.

As of the late 1980's, there were about 30 aboriginal community stations in the Northwest Territories and 14 in the Yukon. Aboriginal stations provide news and information in languages indigenous to these communities.

Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. (CANCOM), private radio stations, community radio stations and cable companies distribute native communications societies' programming.

Radio Programming

CBC Northern Service is funded through the parliamentary appropriations given to the CBC, and broadcasts in eight languages and in four time zones. Each week CBC produces about 220 hours of local programming. Many settlements have a radio society that can arrange with CBC to use the local repeater to broadcast locally produced programming to its own area.

In the Yukon, a native communication society, Northern Native Broadcasting, Yukon (NNB,Y) has established a network of stations with regularly scheduled programming that reflect the native heritage and culture. The NNBAP funds NNB,Y. Radio programming is about 60 hours per week for an audience of approximately 3,000.

The Native Communications Society (NCS) of the Western Northwest Territories has a listening audience of about 113,000 Dene/Metis in 30 communities from Hudson Bay to the Northwest Territories/Yukon border. Station CKNM has the second-largest audience in Yellowknife and reaches 23 communities by satellite. The production format includes open-line shows, news, weather, sports, music and children's programs. Radio programming is about 84 hours per week. NNBAP and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) financially support NCS. Figure 1 shows the areas covered by the native communications societies.

Television Programming

CBC Northern Service produces weekly programs which are shipped to Toronto by satellite (uplinked) where they are recorded and then transmitted to northern communities using Telesat Canada's Anik D1 satellite. The CBC uses two satellite channels to service the Yukon and Northwest Territories. CBC Northern Service also distributes television programming for three Northwest Territories/Yukon native broadcasting societies using these same channels. This is done for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, the Inuvialuit Communications Society, and Northern Native Broadcasting, Yukon. CBC Northern Service presents programs on issues and events relevant to the special broadcasting needs of Northwest Territories and Yukon residents. An operations unit in Ottawa handles on-air scheduling and public service announcements, and produces station breaks. CBC Northern Service now produces about 45 hours of television programming in the Yukon and Northwest Territories each year, but hopes to increase that level of regional production in future years.

The Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) has production facilities in Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit, Igloolik and Rankin Inlet. Programming is varied, since each production centre has developed a specialty; Cambridge Bay is best known for its regional news coverage; Baker Lake and Rankin are associated with cultural and entertainment programming; Igloolik produces historical features and Iqaluit specializes in current affairs, drama and children's educational series. Cultural programs are a regular part of the production schedule in each region. Subjects include preparing traditional food and clothing, throat singing, hunting, contemporary northern music festivals and fashion shows. Television programming is about five hours per week. IBC also broadcasts programs produced by other Inuit communication organizations in Quebec and Labrador. Most of IBC's revenues are from government sources through NNBAP.

The Inuvialuit Communications Society (ICS) serves about 4,000 Inuvialuit. ICS's goal is to help preserve their language, Inuvialuktun. Most programs are in Inuvialuktun and are about the Inuvialuit people, communities and traditions. ICS programs are distributed by CBC Northern Services. ICS is funded by NNBAP and produces about one half-hour of television each week.

NEDDA is the television programming unit for the Northern Native Broadcasting, Yukon (NNB,Y) communications society. NNB,Y is funded by NNBAP and currently produces about one hour of television per week. A weekly format brings news programs, feature stories, personal profiles and messages from Yukon elders.

Print Media

The Native Communication Program (NCP) was established in 1974 by the Department of the Secretary of State to help northern Aboriginal peoples develop and control modern communications media, including newspapers.

In 1989, there were ten newspapers/newsletters published in the Northwest Territories, seven of which were weekly publications. One was published monthly, one was published twice a month, and one was published every two months. In the Yukon there were five newspapers/newsletters published, three of which were monthly, one was published daily (weekdays only) and one was published twice a week.


Canada's North: The Reference Manual, Section 11, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1983, revised 1990.

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