One $40 million cable down, one more to go

With one $40-million fibre-optic network complete, Northwestel is already laying plans for a new one. But this time, the company is looking for government backing.

With one $40-million fibre-optic network complete, Northwestel is already laying plans for a new one.

But this time, the company is looking for government backing.

“If we make a capital investment, we need to cover that through the rate base,” said Curtis Shaw, vice-president of consumer and small business for Northwestel.

“If we (lay the second cable), I’d like to keep it out of the rate base, so we don’t have local ratepayers bearing the cost,” he said.

The new cable would be all about creating “redundancy,” said Shaw.

With only one cable, even a minor accident can grind the Yukon’s internet to a standstill for upwards of 12 hours.

In June alone, the new cable was torn three times, causing Yukon cellphone networks to crash and internet speed to slow to a crawl.

Twice, the cuts were due to botched construction digs.

Once, the cable was severed by a forest fire.

The first cable – built adjacent to the Alaska Highway – was the cheapest route available.

A second cable will likely be built over more difficult terrain – and cost much more than $40 million.

Probably in the “tens of millions,” said Shaw.

Several routes are under consideration.

Yellowknife is already connected to Edmonton by cable.

Northwestel could string an “over-the-top” line between Whitehorse and the NWT capital.

The company could

also lay a line through Alaska, and then run an undersea cable to Vancouver.

Or, the second could simply be laid on the other side of the highway, adjacent to the existing cable.

Many fibre cuts result from human error, like a badly placed backhoe or jackhammer.

“Typically, you’re not going to see a (construction crew) shovel through a fibre cable on one side at the exact same time as the other side,” said Shaw.

A forest fire or landslide, of course, would be a different story.

Customers liked the first network, but they’re unlikely to welcome rate premiums just to cover some “redundancy.”

From a business standpoint, redundancy isn’t worth upwards of $40 million.

But from the government’s perspective, ensuring consistent internet is a great way to stimulate innovation.

There’s more public-sector benefit than private-sector benefit in building a second cable, said Shaw.

“It’s a strategic investment for the Yukon, it’s a strategic investment for Canada,” he said.

The first cable, completed last summer, ushered in a faster internet for lower prices.

“This is not a limited-time offer. This is here to stay,” read a Northwestel brochure.

The new rates are long-awaited relief for Yukon businesses plagued by high internet rates.

“We heard loud and clear from small businesses that couldn’t afford services that they needed to run their business,” said Shaw in comments to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

With less rate money coming through, Northwestel’s internet revenue may take a hit for the short term.

But the company hopes that new subscribers will take up the slack.

“We’re taking the long-term view that, over time … revenue will be made up,” said Shaw.

It’s not often that monopolies make large, money-losing concessions to their customers.

But again, it’s all part of the big picture.

“You can’t assume that we’re going to have a monopoly forever,” said Shaw.

“It would be pretty naive for us to just sit back and not innovate.”

Contact Tristin Hopper at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Doris Bill holds up a signed copy of the KDFN <em>Lands Act</em> agreement during an announcement at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 20. Under the new act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Lands Act comes into force

The act gives the First Nation the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands

Two doctors in Watson Lake say they are at risk of losing their housing due to a Yukon Housing Corporation policy that only allows one pet per family. (Wikimedia Commons)
Healthcare workers in Watson Lake say housing pet policy could force them to leave

The Yukon Housing Corporation has threatened evictions for having more than one pet

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, right, before question period at the Yukon legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. The Yukon government announced Oct. 19 it has increased the honoraria rates for school council members. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Honoraria increased for school council members

Members of school councils throughout the territory could soon receive an increased… Continue reading

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Most Read