It’s time to end disruptive fibre cuts and strengthen our Northern economy

When it comes to our common fibre optic network, Northerners have an important decision to make. Yukoners deserve more than inflammatory editorials. They deserve a decision based on what’s best for Northern Canadians.

When it comes to our common fibre optic network, Northerners have an important decision to make. Yukoners deserve more than inflammatory editorials. They deserve a decision based on what’s best for Northern Canadians.

Do you know when the North last experienced a cut to its fibre network? The answer is two weeks ago, on Feb. 22 to be exact. It took eight hours to fix.

ATMs didn’t stop working. Businesses didn’t shut down. Critical services like 911 continued to operate. Why? The severed fibre was on Northwestel’s redundant southern loop. All our Yukon data simply flowed along another path.

It’s time all Yukon communities have that same level of protection. Dawson City should have reliable access to 911 and other critical services. The Pelly Crossing gas station should not have to shut down for eight hours during the busy tourist season. Patients should not have to reschedule diagnostic appointments. Remote students should not miss a day of study online.

These are things that the Yukon News’s preferred American link cannot resolve. Only a fully redundant Canadian loop can.

By the way, that southern fibre cut a few weeks ago was repaired by Canadian workers, and the network maintained and monitored by Canadian engineers in the Yukon. I simply disagree with the Yukon News’s view that Yukoners are better off footing the bill for American workers to maintain an American fibre line.

Let’s remember there are over 300 Northwestel employees who call Yukon home. They and their families are rightfully proud of the real contributions they are making to Canada and to the North.

Through our five-year modernization plan, these Yukoners have contributed to tripling available internet speeds in rural Northern communities. Teslin, Haines Junction and Destruction Bay were the latest to join the list, with Marsh Lake set to receive faster speeds this year.

Working with Bell Canada, we have brought 4G wireless to communities across the North. We have improved voice services and satellite capacity to several dozens of remote communities like Old Crow.

Our Yukon team does more than proudly serve Yukoners. Our local call centre helps customers across three territories and two provinces. Our headquarters, including finance, engineering and human resources teams are based here. Whitehorse is a major satellite traffic hub for 35 communities in northern B.C., N.W.T. and Nunavut.

This is an economic driver for our Yukon economy. One of our competitors has chosen to locate their satellite earth station in Ottawa where costs are lower. Other competitors rely on southern call centres. Northwestel believes our infrastructure and these jobs should help build the communities we serve.

We are proud to support our Yukon Hospital, the Yukon Arts Centre, National Aboriginal Day, the Jackrabbits Cross-country ski program, Yukon Soccer, the Canada Games Centre, mental health programs like the Yukon Distress Centre and so many other important initiatives.

The end result: despite the challenges of the North — high input costs, long distances and often unforgiving weather conditions — the Northwestel team has succeeded in building a truly Northern company, and is Yukon’s largest high-tech employer.

We certainly wouldn’t suggest we’ve done it alone. Strong government and First Nations partnerships have always been key.

Some of the most important telecommunications innovations in the North have come about when governments and private partners have worked to find solutions that would otherwise be unaffordable.

And now, government and private partners in the North are being called on to come together to address the high impact of fibre cuts on the economy and essential government services.

This decision must be made in the broader public interest, and the Yukon government is right to examine all its options.

At the same time, ultimately, the decision must be right for the Yukon. The right decision is one that builds local Canadian businesses, not American ones, and protects services in all communities, instead of writing them off.

Here are 3 reasons an all-Canadian loop, regardless of who owns it, is better for Yukon.

1. An American route won’t protect essential services like 911. A Canadian loop will.

There’s more than just internet running over the fibre lines. Essential services like 911, health records, landline and cell phone services, e-education services are all at risk during fibre cuts. Only a fully redundant loop can protect essential services in all communities along the route. A separate American route won’t.

2. Data running through American fibre is subject to American law.

While it’s true that general internet traffic crosses borders every day, many customers across the North have arranged for secure point-to-point connections to protect sensitive financial, banking, flight navigation and other data. Some have explicitly said this information must stay in Canada.

An American route will not provide redundancy for these important secure networks.

3. Investing in American infrastructure builds America. Investing in Northern infrastructure builds Northern Canada.

The Yukon News quotes an estimated $75 million in leasing fees over 20 years. These fees will support American jobs, not Canadian ones. The fibre network that carries our data south will be repaired and maintained by American workers, not Canadians. On the potential Canadian loop, we have seen 60 per cent of the investment to date going to Northern Canadian companies.

An American solution seems like an easy answer. At the end of the day, I don’t see how it’s the right choice for Northern Canada — my home for over 15 years.

The all-Canadian solution Northwestel has put forward will benefit Yukoners in Whitehorse and outside of it. It will strengthen and protect over 75 Northern communities across the North.

Let’s not forget, a Canadian solution will be available to all competitors at wholesale rates that are set and regulated by the government and these rates will decrease by a minimum of 40 per cent this year.

Regardless of who builds and owns the asset, with benefits that span the North, we believe that the federal government can play a major role, minimizing the cost to Yukoners.

By working together, being flexible, and committing to what is right for all Yukoners, we can put harmful and disruptive fibre cuts behind us.

Paul Flaherty is President and CEO of Northwestel, one of Northern Canada’s largest private sector employers.

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