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Interview: Task Force on Improved Connectivity meets in Washington, DC

The Arctic Council's Task Force on Improved Connectivity in the Arctic met in Washington, DC on 16-17 May 2018, in a gathering that included many invited speakers from the private sector. Task Force co-Chair Marjukka Vihavainen-Pitkänen offered some insight into the event.

You’ve just finished your meeting in Washington, DC. There was substantial engagement from the private sector there; how did it go, and why do you think business representatives are interested in the Task Force’s work?

My first impression from the meeting was that it went quite well. We managed to get the business community involved in the meeting, and we had extremely interesting discussions. I had the feeling that companies were very interested in hearing each other's contributions to those questions we were dealing with. I suppose most of the participants shared the feeling that we are on the threshold of something new coming up; various solutions and new innovations will be available in the near future, in 2-4 years’ time. A variety of technologies – as some examples, LEO and HEO satellites, sea cables, HF technology, and even 5G – may be available in the years ahead.

During your discussions, did any particularly stubborn challenges stand out to you?

One thing we did not deal that much with was the question of price or affordability of these services for local users. This will be one of the key issues we should still work on in this Task Force – trying to find ways to cover costs. The “user pays” method isn't the most suitable way of dealing with that issue in this context. I suppose that many companies share the vision that those services that might ultimately be available in the Arctic could also work in other remote areas. Perhaps they could even be used globally or reproduced in other challenging contexts. Nevertheless, it was underlined that the Arctic region has very specific challenges and very severe conditions.

<What do you think the Task Force might deliver to Ministers of the Arctic States at the Ministerial meeting coming up in Rovaniemi in 2019?

When it comes to the deliverables to the Ministerial meeting, one of the main findings will probably be that there will be several technologies to serve various user groups and no “one size fits all” solutions. Needs and abilities to use existing opportunities differ, and we still might need a better understanding of the needs of particular user groups. This is something we will pay more attention to in the next meeting. Furthermore, we had an early discussion about the future status of the Task Force and connectivity issues in the remit of the Arctic Council overall. I think this will be one of the issues on which we are supposed to make a recommendation. It could be reflected in the Arctic Council’s developing strategy, but this should be discussed mainly at the level of Senior Arctic Officials.