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Internet outage prompts criticism on Dempster fibre project delays

The Liberals responded that they have proceeded cautiously to avoid high costs.
Northwestel says it is investigating into the cause of the total communications blackout throughout the territory after a power failure in Whitehorse on Wednesday night.

A Northwestel outage that paused internet use in the territories and parts of B.C. on May 12 prompted calls in the Yukon’s legislature for an acceleration of the Dempster fibre line project.

“Yesterday, the telecommunications network of the Yukon was crippled due to the cutting of a fibre line, again,” said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers during question period.

Cathers said the Dempster fibre project was proposed in 2016 to create redundancy that would help avoid similar outages but he said the Liberal government had missed multiple deadlines and hadn’t started on the project five years later.

Internet service, and some phone services including 911, went down across the territory on May 12 around 2:30 p.m. after a fibre line north of Fort Nelson, B.C. was damaged. Service was not restored by Northwestel until early morning.

“If it wasn’t for Liberal mismanagement, yesterday’s telecommunications outage would have been mitigated,” he said.

The Dempster Fibre Line Project is an 800-kilometre fibre optic line that will extend from Dawson to Inuvik, providing a backup communications line if the primary line is disrupted.

Liberal Minister Ranj Pillai responded that the department has taken a cautious approach because the project is extremely complex and has the potential for ballooning costs.

He said his government has been negotiating with the federal government in order to secure enough funding.

“Highways and Public Works has taken a cautious approach to this because, in other jurisdictions such as the Northwest Territories, a fibre line of the same magnitude of a project doubled, from $100 million to $200 million,” he said.

Minister of Highways and Public Works Nils Clarke said the new timeline estimates completion in 2024.

“The planning for our side, up the Dempster Highway, has been exhaustive, effective, and inclusive, involving engagement with three Yukon First Nations and five Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories,” Clarke said. “We’re doing this properly, and this project will not have the budget issues.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at