There is more to connectivity than mobile phone coverage. Access to broadband for example facilitates e-learning for children and adults in remote communities and enables the development of digital health and social services. The Finnish Chairmanship program speaks of well-functioning communication networks and services as a lifeline for human activities and as a prerequisite for economic development in the Arctic.
“Electronic communication services considerably improve both the safety and the quality of life for everybody who lives in, works in or visits the Arctic – be it indigenous peoples, local communities and businesses, tourists, or researchers. We therefore put it high on our agenda to improve connectivity in the Arctic”, says Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.
The Fairbanks Declaration, which guides the Finnish Chairmanship during its two-year term, states “the importance of furthering efforts to improve telecommunications in the Arctic as a means to support thriving Arctic communities”. In this declaration, Ministers of the eight Arctic States decided to establish a Task Force on Improved Connectivity in the Arctic (TFICA), which would compare the needs of those who live, operate, and work in the Arctic with available infrastructure.
To understand what users in the Arctic need, to explore new technological solutions, as well as commercial opportunities and best practices, the experts of the Task Force have worked closely with Arctic Council subsidiary bodies and external partners. These include the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Arctic Economic Council, the Working Group for Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR), the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF), and many business and industry representatives. The work of the Task Force also was able to build on the recommendations of its predecessor, the Task Force on Telecommunications Infrastructure in the Arctic (TFTIA).
The range of potential communications technologies suitable for enhancing connectivity in the Arctic is wide: from satellite connections, to mobile communications systems, low-bandwidth transmission and sea cables. And different solutions will be needed. “Connectivity requirements across the Arctic vary greatly as does their required scale, ranging from local to pan-Arctic. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. But each of the ongoing projects has the potential to dramatically increase connectivity, speed and improve coverage throughout the Arctic”, says Marjukka Vihavainen-Pitkänen, Co-Chair of TFICA. The Task Force will present its findings at the Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi.
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