Northwestel will build and own the Yukon portion of a fibre line being built by an Alaskan telecommunications company that will connect the state to the rest of the mainland U.S. (Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board map)

Alaskan telecom to build terrestrial fibre line to Yukon, linking state to the Lower 48

Northwestel will be one of the Canadian companies carrying traffic for MTA

An Alaskan telecommunications company has started construction on a fibre line that will link the state with the rest of the mainland U.S., with Northwestel to build and own of a new portion of line that will run through the Yukon.

MTA Fiber Holdings, a subsidiary of Matanuska Telephone Association, announced in a press release May 1 that it has started construction on what’s to be “the first and only all-terrestrial fiber network connecting Alaska to the contiguous United States and beyond.”

Dubbed the Alaska Canada Overland Network, or AlCan ONE for short, the press release says the project “will lower transport expenses, provide a secure and reliable route to the contiguous U.S. and provide Alaska with a stable internet transport connection.” It also says that MTA has “secured partnerships with Canadian carriers” in order to extend its existing network from North Pole, Alaska, through Canada and “on to any major hub” in the U.S.

At the moment MTA pays other carriers to use their undersea fibre lines. MTA Fiber’s website describes two of those lines as “quickly approaching the end of their useful life.”

The announcement brought an end to the mystery of who would be on the other end of a fibre line extension that Northwestel will be building along the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction and up past Beaver Creek to the Canadian-U.S. border.

The northern internet service provider initially submitted its plans for the 325-kilometre extension to the Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Board (YESAB) in January, proposing the cable pass through Haines Junction, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek.

The project is now in the final stages of the YESAB process, with the majority of installation work expected to take place this summer and a predicted completion date of 2020 if it gets approved.

In a phone interview May 7, Northwestel spokesperson Andrew Anderson confirmed that while Northwestel is among the Canadian carriers that will carry traffic for MTA, Northwestel will remain the sole owner and operator of the extension.

MTA’s use aside, Anderson said that the extension will also “provide future broadband capacity to Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek and open up opportunities for such things as improved distance education and health services in those communities.”

While the extension offers up a third route for data, in theory, to travel in and out of the territory – there’s the current line and the approved $79 million Dempster redundancy line, which will connect Dawson City to Inuvik — MTA said in an email that it is “not owning anything in Canada and has no plans to be a Canadian carrier.”

Anderson also said that the AlCan ONE would not serve as a suitable redundancy as it would be “exorbitantly expensive” to lease the undersea cables required to create a fibre loop — the same issue, he said, associated with the Skagway redundancy option that had been proposed alongside the Dempster.

In an interview May 6, Yukon Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said that MTA’s announcement came as a surprise — the Yukon government only knew about Northwestel’s YESAB application — and that his department is pursuing a meeting with MTA “to see if there’s any opportunities for Yukoners” in terms of “more connectivity.”

“That’s something that we’re going to pursue very quickly here, to see if there is an opportunity for Yukoners to use that line,” he said, adding that, either way, it was “fantastic news” that communities from Haines Junction to Beaver Creek will soon have a fibre line running through them.

However, Pillai said, the Yukon government is “steadfast on continuing the work on the Dempster line for a number of reasons,” and the AlCan ONE doesn’t change that.

“(The Dempster line is) going to be important to a lot of communities in north Yukon as well as the Northwest Territories and it’s going to be a key piece of infrastructure, not just for the Yukon but for the entire northern Canada,” he said.

“It’s important for some of the infrastructure that the Northwest Territories also has located in Inuvik, so we’re going to continue to do that work.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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