Yukon News

Yukon government would own proposed fibre optic line

Pierre Chauvin Friday May 12, 2017

Submitted photo/Government of the Northwest Territories


Crews work on the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line in the Northwest Territories. The Yukon government would own a proposed fibre line that would connect to Outside through either the Mackenzie Valley or Skagway.

The Yukon government would own a much-awaited fibre optic line offering internet redundancy to the territory, the News has learned.

The territorial government applied for funding for two different possible fibre optic line routes, one up the Dempster Highway and one down the South Klondike Highway, the Department of Economic Development said.

The federal government’s Connect to Innovate program has set aside $500 million for all provinces and territories to finance internet infrastructure projects over the next four years. That program could pay for up to 50 per cent of the construction cost of the line. The Yukon government also applied to the federal government’s new small communities fund. Both programs combined could pay for up to 75 per cent of the line’s construction costs.

But to be able to combine both grants, the small communities fund requires the territorial government owns the infrastructure.

That means that the government would have contract out the operation and maintenance of the line to a private company, much like the Northwest Territories’ government-owned Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line (MVFL)

Back in November 2015 the Yukon government announced it would go with a Northwestel-owned fibre line up the Dempster that would connect to the MVFL.

But a year later, a new detailed engineering report put the cost of building that line between $50 million and $75 million, up from $32 million.

That put the possibility of a fibre line going down the South Klondike Highway, previously deemed too expensive, back on the table.

That route would connect to the Alaska Power and Telephone Company’s existing line connecting Skagway to Seattle.

The Yukon government would only own the portion that goes up to the Canadian border and lease capacity on the portion going to Seattle.

For that route, construction costs, including the leasing fees, would be between $30 million and $45 million.

While the leasing costs are included in the upfront cost for the line, those are not eligible for the Connect to Innovate program, said Steve Sorochan, director of technology and telecommunications development at the Department of Economic Development.

The federal government could decide to fund one or either projects, but the Yukon government will make the final decision, Sorochan said.

The department, however, won’t release the operations and maintenance costs for either lines.

“The final operating cost will be determined through procurement, and we do not want to prejudice that process by providing numbers,” Sorochan wrote in a follow-up email.

The federal programs require the project to go through an open tender process. That’s when the final construction costs will be known, Sorochan said.

He said the government expects to hear back from the federal government in late summer early fall about the funding applications.

The new engineering report done by Ledcor, which the Department of Economic Development provided to the News, shows the first cost estimate didn’t account for over 1,100 culverts that would be required.

That first report also proposed to bury the line directly beneath the road bed, something that’s now deemed unfeasible.

“The risk to both the proposed fibre cable and the road structure were deemed excessive by installing the cable in the road prism,” the report reads.

It also recommended against buyring the line in permafrost.

“Upon recommendations from the Northern Climate Exchange as well as Ledcor’s experience with fibre construction on other projects in similar environments, it is proposed to avoid buyring the cable in permafrost,” the report reads.

Ledcor is one of the companies that was involved in the construction of the MVFL.

Instead the second report proposes a combination of shallow buried cable and surface-laid conduit for the majority of the route north of Tombstone National Park to Inuvik.

Surface-laid cable offers “minimal environmental impact and lower construction costs,” the report said.

It did list 10 potential risk associated with surface-laid cable, including cable theft, animals chewing on the line, wildfire and damage from highway accidents.

Environmental and heritage assessments along the line’s route were also conducted but the department refused to release them. Those reports list heritage sites and wildlife habitats, something the department doesn’t want made public over concerns the heritage sites could be disturbed and the wildlife impacted.

The lack of redundancy has caused regular internet outages in the territory during the summer when construction crews have accidentally sliced the only fibre line running through northern British Columbia.

Yukon’s information technology sector has been vocal about the need for redundancy, arguing it’s needed to boost the industry.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Nile wrote:
4:17pm Tuesday May 16, 2017

My understanding is that Northwestel threatened the last government with closing all of their offices and services in Yukon and moving them to Yellowknife if they didn’t play ball on the north Demster rout. Interesting to see if the new Liberal government takes them on.

Groucho d'North wrote:
3:58pm Monday May 15, 2017

About time too! I’m pleased that government will finally begin to collect assets for all the fiscal contributions they have made to northern telecommunications infrastructure over the years. NWTel has been getting a sweetheart deal, especially as they have also been regular recipients of CRTC – ordered financing from a number of programs and funding schemes within the Canadian telecoms industry. If they had the courage to make their annual report available to the public, all could see why they are desperate to keep competition out of this marketplace.

This will never be build wrote:
3:12pm Monday May 15, 2017

under the liberals.

ProScience Greenie wrote:
11:16am Monday May 15, 2017

Go South Klondike, the Dempster route is wrong in so many ways.

The SpaceX thing is excellent but space has very real hazards such as massive solar storms so the land-based option of the South Klondike line would be wise.

mlehner wrote:
7:24pm Sunday May 14, 2017

The southern route will yield a far lower cost, and will enable competition to enter the Yukon Internet Service Provider space.

Building the northern route ensures that even if the government owns it and retains control of it, you will still need to use the incumbent’s infrastructure to get traffic in and out of the Yukon. This is like saying that the Alaska Highway is completely government owned, but one section (the Takhini River Bridge, let’s use as an example) is owned by a private company. Even if the government lets you use the highway completely for free end-to-end, what happens when the bridge toll is $5,000.00 per crossing ? You have no real choice but to use the bridge, so the fact that the rest of the highway is toll-free is pretty much a moot point. This is what will happen if the northern route it built. You will be able to get digital data to Inuvik for what will likely be a reasonable cost, and then you will be stuck there, with no way to get back to southern gateways unless you use the incumbent’s infrastructure. There-in lies the problem with the northern route.

The southern route allows traffic to actually leave the Yukon without using the incumbent’s infrastructure AT ALL. This is what we call actual competition, and it is the only way that telecommunications services will become cheaper for Yukoners.

Boogereater wrote:
9:34am Sunday May 14, 2017

@ Questionable project Exactly!! again another project that does not deserve to be invested in for the reasons You stated but also the reality that there are so many priorities that need to be addressed first. This is another example of the Yukon trying to keep up to southern standards. We simply cannot sustain it anymore. Just keep the lights on for now I say, and that alone will be a challenge in the years to come.

Questionable project wrote:
8:49pm Friday May 12, 2017

With SpaceX and others planning to launch satellite based high speed internet covering the globe and at competitive pricing in 2019 I wonder if the $75 million+ on a fibre link might be useless before it is even completed.
Seems the only people that may benefit are the contractors putting the line in.

Thomas Brewer wrote:
7:12pm Friday May 12, 2017

It only makes sense to route a second fibre link southwards, vs a very circuitous northern route. 

Of course YTG and NWTel aren’t thinking about ping times, twitch reflexes, and headshots. :/

Hugh Mungus wrote:
3:12pm Friday May 12, 2017

Building the northern route is the wrong way to go.  It would only solve one problem, redundancy.  Building south would provide redundancy AND a fatter pipe as we will continue to devour more and more bandwidth.  This route could also be a revenue generator if CTFN were to partner with YG

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