SSi Micro, provider of AirWare satellite Internet services in the NWT, has announced it will be pulling out of several communities Sept. 1 as a result of mounting costs and poor returns.
“In 2005, very few communities in the NWT had access to high speed Internet,” the company stated in an e-mail sent to its customers. “In 2006, SSi won a competitive tender and entered into an agreement with Falcon Communications to provide subsidized satellite broadband services to most communities. This agreement expired in early 2012, after which the federal backbone subsidies that supported AirWare in the NWT were transferred to Northwestel.”
The e-mail goes on to explain that SSi continued to offer the service, despite running at a loss, as it “firmly believe(s)” residents of the NWT deserve a choice of Internet providers as opposed to the monopoly of Northwestel.
Not all customers, however, got the e-mail.
Hay River resident Ashley Wedzin said she was never notified that her Internet service would be cut off, only finding out when The Hub put out a call for Hay River Ssi Micro customers after finding out the service would soon be pulled.
“They’re always doing things last minute with customers,” she said. “It’s never in advance.”
Wedzin also noted that the modem she purchased for the service was expensive and that she hopes the company will buy it back.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” she said. “I paid a lot of money for the modem and it can’t just sit there, collecting dust, when we can’t do much with it.”
Wedzin’s was not a unique experience. Heather Foubert, who moved to Hay River in April from Yellowknife, taking her SSi Micro Internet service with her, said she only found out about the change when she called the company to report problems with her modem.
“I was renting the unit in Yellowknife, and when I moved here, they told me I had to buy it for $150,” she said.
When she called the Yellowknife office to say the modem wasn’t working, she was told to call the local Hay River distributor, who told her not to bother replacing it as the service would be cut off in a few weeks anyway.
“What I can’t get over is that in April, they charged me for the equipment, knowing full well it would be useless in a few months,” said Foubert. “You can’t tell me they had no idea they would be pulling out of the communities back then.”
The distributor in Hay River, ArcTech Computers, forwarded Foubert the e-mail from SSi Micro and advised her to have her service cut off right away so as not to be charged for the rest of the month with a useless modem.
After several back-and-forth phone calls with SSi’s Yellowknife office, Foubert said she was told she had the option of selling her unit in another community.
“I told them it wasn’t very honest, the way they are treating their customers,” she said. “The whole customer service deal with them is distorted … it seemed like no one knew what was going on.”
In the notification e-mail, the company advises its customers their main option is now Internet from Northwestel.
“As a strong supporter of fair competition and consumer rights, it truly saddens us to discontinue this service,” it reads. “We are hopeful that future changes to the regulatory framework and government subsidies will allow SSi to once again provide a competitive service in all NWT communities.”
Dean Proctor, spokesperson for SSi Micro on this matter, was unavailable for comment by press time.