Northwestel to be sold to Indigenous consortium from the 3 territories

A Northwestel building in Norman Wells, N.W.T., in the summer of 2022.  (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
A Northwestel building in Norman Wells, N.W.T., in the summer of 2022. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

The biggest telecommunications company in the North will be sold to a group of Indigenous development companies from Yukon, N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Northwestel, which is owned by Bell Canada, called its sale to a consortium of Indigenous communities a "landmark partnership."

The nearly $1-billion deal will be closed later this year, according to a Tuesday news release from Northwestel, Bell Canada and the consortium called Sixty North Unity.

Tiffany Eckert-Maret from Yukon, Darrell Beaulieu from the N.W.T. and David Omilgoitok from Nunavut are leading Sixty North Unity. Eckert-Maret said the Northwestel deal has been talked about for "many, many, many" years but started taking shape over the last two years.

"I think this is the most exciting thing that we've been a part of," Eckert-Maret said. "It bring three territories together and it really allows us to take control of the communications in our communities."

Eckert-Maret said there's a dedicated group of people who have joined the consortium, but it's still open for other organizations to join.

"This is for the North, it's by the North," she said.

Curtis Shaw, Northwestel president, called the sale a "monumental step."

"I think the time was right," Shaw said. "There's definitely reconciliation on the national agenda."

Northwestel technicians installing a series of OneWeb LEO dishes in Inuvik NWT to rapidly augment local capacity when fire burnt through a fibre line.
Northwestel technicians installing a series of OneWeb LEO dishes in Inuvik NWT to rapidly augment local capacity when fire burnt through a fibre line.

Northwestel technicians installing a series of OneWeb LEO dishes in Inuvik, N.W.T., to augment local capacity when fire burnt through a fibre line in 2023. (Northwestel)

Shaw said the company is trying to improve the network in the North, and that having local people running the company will improve that process.

"All those decisions are now going to be made in the North," Shaw said.

President, employees to stay the same 

Eckert-Maret also said that because the new owners will know their communities, she thinks response time to things like major outages will be more effective.

"Before we were just mere participants, kind of allowed to be invited to the table. The table's now ours," she said.

Shaw said the company will retain its existing employees and that more people will be hired in northern Canada to fill jobs previously filled by Bell.

Shaw will remain as the company's president and its executive will also stay the same.

Sixty North Unity plans to do several things through the deal, including doubling internet speeds to one gigabyte per second for fibre customers, and offering low earth orbit satellite technology to deliver high speeds to eight satellite-served communities in the N.W.T. and 25 satellite-served communities in Nunavut.

It also plans to put $4 million into building the Great Slave Lake Fibre Project.