Opposition parties this week asked the government if it is not putting all of its proverbial eggs in one fibre-optic basket.
On Tuesday, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver referred to a February report to the Yukon government, which recommended a $13-million government grant to start a new company to run fibre-optic cable from Whitehorse to Juneau.
Currently there is only one fibre-optic line connecting Yukon to Outside. The government is investigating the possibility of a second line as a way of encouraging competition in telecom industries and protecting the territory from outages.
“How does this plan for a $13-million subsidy to start a new company fulfill the Yukon Party’s commitment to maintain a level playing field in supporting small businesses?” asked Silver.
“That particular vision, as articulated in that feasibility study, may be an option, but it’s not one that we have prioritized,” responded Currie Dixon, minister of Economic Development.
“In the 21st century, things have changed and now we have a more digital economy. It is appropriate now for the public to invest in this sort of digital highway in the manner that previous governments did for the physical highways.”
The analogy falls flat, however, when you consider that it will ultimately be a private company that owns and profits from this communication highway.
“I am not interested in entering into competition or having government become a competitor to a telecommunications company in Yukon,” said Dixon.
On Monday, NDP MLA Kevin Barr suggested that the government consider instead running cable up though Inuvik. The Northwest Territories government plans to connect Inuvik to its fibre optic grid by mid-2016.
“Can the minister confirm that they are considering this second option?” asked Barr.
Dixon responded that the government is aware of the project and will continue to watch it.
“This is a project that has been proposed for some time, and we are approaching it with a certain degree of scepticism, but we know that Northwest Territories has committed to it and we are watching very closely to see how that project advances.”
However, the government is committed to continued investment in planning the link with Alaska, said Dixon.
Yukon has set aside $600,000 in this year’s budget for that purpose.