Yukon, First Nations to study new fibre optic link

The territorial government is teaming up with a collection of First Nations development groups to look at running a second fibre-optic telecommunications link to the south.

The territorial government is teaming up with a collection of First Nations development groups to look at running a second fibre-optic telecommunications link to the south.

The First Nations groups, partnered together as Dempster Energy Services, are made up of the development corporations of the Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin and the NWT’s Gwich’in Tribal Council.

Ron Daub is the executive director for Dempster Energy Services. He said the idea came about after he spoke with a number of Yukon business owners over the past few years.

He said the Vuntut Gwitchin had been looking at a project like this on their own, but they decided it was a better fit for DES.

“We approached the government and asked whether they were ready to bring it to bankable study. They milled it around for about six months before saying yes,” Daub said.

The study will seek to determine whether a fibre-optic line is even possible, and what it would likely cost. It’s a bankable feasibility study, meaning it should provide enough detail to satisfy a potential financial backer.

“We see this benefiting all Yukoners with cheaper, more reliable Internet. But we want it to be bankable. If it doesn’t work technically or financially, then we don’t have a project,” Daub said.

The study is also the first major project for the Yukon government’s new technology and telecommunications development directorate. Steve Sorkin, who is working on the project for the directorate, said that having more details about where, when and how much a new fibre-optic link would cost would go a long way to helping improve competition in the telecom market.

Currently, the only fibre-optic cable connecting the Yukon to Outside is owned by NorthwesTel.

“We need to know if this can be done, how much it will cost, what the business model would be,” said Sorkin.

Once that data is collected, Sorkin said the next challenge will be finding enough funding to get the project off the ground.

“There is likely going to be a gap in funding, so we’ll need to look at bringing on other partners in industry,” he said.

The study will cost around $133,000, with the Yukon government paying 75 per cent of the cost, and Dempster Energy Services picking up the rest.

The most likely scheme for a new line would be to run it between Whitehorse and Juneau, Alaska, Sorkin said, but there are other routes being looked at as well.

“We could run it up the Dempster to Inuvik … or over White Pass to Skagway,” he said.

Dempster Energy Services formed about two and a half years ago as a way for the member First Nations to foster economic development for their people.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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