Yukon community schools and health centres to get gigabit Internet

Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake are all on track to get a major Internet upgrade.

Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake are all on track to get a major Internet upgrade.

The Yukon government has launched a pilot project with Northwestel and Whitehorse-based communications company Total North to provide one gigabit per second Internet speeds to schools, hospitals and health centres in the three communities.

To put that in perspective, schools and health care centres currently access Internet speeds of 30 megabits per second in Watson Lake and 10 megabits per second in Teslin and Carmacks. That means the upgrade will provide Internet that’s up to 100 times faster than what’s available right now.

The fastest speed Northwestel currently offers to small businesses is 150 megabits per second in Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

Google claims its one-gigabit connection, Google Fiber, allows users to stream at least five high-definition videos simultaneously and to download a 14-gigabyte movie in less than two minutes.

“These are pretty phenomenal speeds given the size of (the communities),” said Curtis Shaw, Northwestel’s vice-president of consumer markets. “That’s a pretty powerful thing in a small community.”

The project is intended to improve education and health care in the communities, especially by enhancing communication with larger centres.

Total North president Gord Duncan said the faster speeds will help with distance education, in part by allowing for live-streaming of lectures.

“All that would be smooth and transparent,” he said.

He added that the upgrade will allow students in the communities to share their work as well.

“If the folks in Teslin decided to do a project, let’s say on the wetlands or the Nisutlin Flats … they could upload all their video and people could access that.”

Duncan said faster Internet will also allow health-care workers to transmit X-rays and charts more easily, and to access more specific advice for dealing with certain situations.

For instance, he said, if someone had an accident in one of the communities, health-care workers could use live-streaming video to let professionals in Whitehorse oversee any procedures.

The Yukon government will pay $3.8 million for the pilot project, which is slated to last three years. Economic Development Minister Stacey Hassard said the long-term goal is to expand the higher speeds to other communities.

“That’s my hope,” he said. “We have to determine if it’s cost-effective or not, what we’re getting for what we’re paying. And hopefully over the course of the following years, we start expanding it into other communities and eventually all communities in the Yukon.”

But upgrading Internet speeds to one gigabit will take some work. Teslin, Carmacks and Watson Lake were chosen because they all fall along the main fibre line connecting the Yukon to Outside.

Shaw explained that many buildings are currently connected to the main line with copper cables, which can’t support one-gigabit speeds.

This summer, Total North will install local fibre-optic cable networks in Teslin and Carmacks that connect the schools and health-care centres into the main fibre line. Watson Lake already has some local fibre, Duncan said.

Electronics along the main fibre line will also need to be upgraded to support the faster speeds. The installation is expected to be complete this fall.

Steve Sorochan, the Yukon government’s director of technology and telecommunications development, said Whitehorse wasn’t included in the pilot project because some government buildings are already connected by fibre lines in the city.

“Some of the connectivity in Whitehorse already provides those kinds of speeds,” he said.

One-gigabit Internet speeds are still not common in Canada, though the big three telecommunications providers – Bell, Telus and Rogers – all began rolling out one-gigabit household plans in the Toronto area last year.

Northwestel isn’t likely to offer those kinds of speeds to Yukon households anytime soon. But Shaw said every Yukon community outside of Whitehorse will be getting Internet speeds of at least 15 megabits per second by the end of 2017.

Northwestel will also be extending its main fibre line from Stewart Crossing to Dawson City this summer, Shaw said.

Still, this summer’s upgrades won’t protect Yukoners from Internet outages whenever the main fibre line is cut south of Watson Lake.

Last October, the Yukon government announced plans to build a fibre-optic cable along the Dempster Highway that would connect to the new fibre line currently under construction up the Mackenzie Valley to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. That line would provide a redundant connection to protect against outages.

But funding for that project still hasn’t been worked out. This year’s territorial budget contained $500,000 for planning and consultation for the new fibre line, but construction is not slated to start before this year’s territorial election.

Contact Maura Forrest at