Former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord and Industry Minister Tony Clement understand the importance of the internet.
And that’s something. Because many politicians don’t.
As Ottawa draws up plans to spend billions rebuilding Canada’s tattered infrastructure, everyone is championing a favourite road, bridge, dam, railway or pipeline.
Few are thinking the internet or telecommunications.
And that’s a problem, especially in the Yukon.
Here, for several reasons, the power grid is top of mind. In fact, besides the -million hospital proposed for Watson Lake’s 850 people, it is probably the most popular infrastructure topic.
Lately, there has been a lot of ink spilled about power in the territory, much of it prompted by our outrageously high power bills, the yammering of the enormous diesel generators, the oft-flickering lights and full-blown outages, all of which, we are assured, has absolutely NOTHING TO DO WITH the newest and largest industrial customer on the grid, the Carmacks copper mine.
Whatever the causes—Â and they are legion—there are clearly significant problems with the territory’s power grid.
And so there will be much focus on extending or improving the territory’s power system. In fact, the Fentie and Harper governments may already have a plan in the works (see letter page 9).
These days, power is important. Making the grid more dependable, more efficient and … well, more powerful should be a priority.
It is the obvious choice.
But it’s not the only choice.
And that’s where Lord and Clement’s unexpected focus on the internet comes in.
An expansion and improvement of that information network would, ultimately, do the territory more good than plowing another 0 million into the Robert Campbell Highway.
The barrier is that roads are well understood by the public. The internet is thought of, by many, to be alchemy.
So let’s keep things simple. The Yukon’s broadband infrastructure is decrepit, and that’s hurting business in the territory.
Six years ago, text was the main source of information on the continent’s broadband network. It took almost nothing to fire it around.
Today, websites have become much more sophisticated and video is now the most popular medium on the internet.
It takes a ton of bandwidth to broadcast. And the Yukon doesn’t have it.
So, the network is slowing to a crawl. And any business that depends on the internet is starting to see the effects of that decrepit infrastructure.
Sending and receiving stuff on the network—Â from commercial transactions to large sophisticated business documents—is starting to get much harder and less dependable.
That’s only going to get worse.
It will, more than anything, put the Yukon at a competitive disadvantage.
Already, southern companies are having trouble communicating with Yukon clients because their phone systems are voice-over IP (basically, internet-based) and Northwestel blocks them.
Across the continent, most commerce and entertainment is flowing through the internet. It has, in just over a decade, changed the way people communicate with one another.
And because of it, the Yukon is a far different place today than it was in 1994.
Almost overnight, the internet removed the Yukon’s frontier status, connecting it to friends and family and culture, and lowering the cost of living in ways that were unimaginable as late as 1993.
The pace of that change is not going to slow. The internet system is going to evolve faster.
In fact, most of that innovation comes on the heels of market crashes. When developers are out of work, they seem to have both the time and the need to be creative—Google, Digg and Facebook were born during crashes and slowdowns.
The only certainty is that the next internet era will require more bandwidth. And the Yukon is already short.
Unless the Yukon increases its data capacity, it will become a frontier again.
Of course, it will never be as remote as it once was, but its growth will be stunted. Capitalizing on the next boom will be impossible.
More than railroads and mines, the territory’s future is dependent on the flow of information.
Ensuring that flow requires significant investment in two types of critical infrastructure—its power grid and its cellphone and broadband network.
The internet is not yet something that crosses people’s minds when they think of infrastructure spending.
But that has to change. Fast.
Which is why it’s reassuring that political heavyweights like Lord and Clement get it.
We hope word trickles down to the Fentie government.
Because, for the Yukon, the internet is not a luxury. It is critical infrastructure. (Richard Mostyn)