Yukon government would own proposed fibre optic line

The Yukon government would own a much-awaited fibre optic line offering internet redundancy to the territory, the News has learned.

The Yukon government would own a much-awaited fibre optic line offering internet redundancy to the territory, the News has learned.

The territorial government applied for funding for two different possible fibre optic line routes, one up the Dempster Highway and one down the South Klondike Highway, the Department of Economic Development said.

The federal government’s Connect to Innovate program has set aside $500 million for all provinces and territories to finance internet infrastructure projects over the next four years. That program could pay for up to 50 per cent of the construction cost of the line. The Yukon government also applied to the federal government’s new small communities fund. Both programs combined could pay for up to 75 per cent of the line’s construction costs.

But to be able to combine both grants, the small communities fund requires the territorial government owns the infrastructure.

That means that the government would have contract out the operation and maintenance of the line to a private company, much like the Northwest Territories’ government-owned Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line (MVFL)

Back in November 2015 the Yukon government announced it would go with a Northwestel-owned fibre line up the Dempster that would connect to the MVFL.

But a year later, a new detailed engineering report put the cost of building that line between $50 million and $75 million, up from $32 million.

That put the possibility of a fibre line going down the South Klondike Highway, previously deemed too expensive, back on the table.

That route would connect to the Alaska Power and Telephone Company’s existing line connecting Skagway to Seattle.

The Yukon government would only own the portion that goes up to the Canadian border and lease capacity on the portion going to Seattle.

For that route, construction costs, including the leasing fees, would be between $30 million and $45 million.

While the leasing costs are included in the upfront cost for the line, those are not eligible for the Connect to Innovate program, said Steve Sorochan, director of technology and telecommunications development at the Department of Economic Development.

The federal government could decide to fund one or either projects, but the Yukon government will make the final decision, Sorochan said.

The department, however, won’t release the operations and maintenance costs for either lines.

“The final operating cost will be determined through procurement, and we do not want to prejudice that process by providing numbers,” Sorochan wrote in a follow-up email.

The federal programs require the project to go through an open tender process. That’s when the final construction costs will be known, Sorochan said.

He said the government expects to hear back from the federal government in late summer early fall about the funding applications.

The new engineering report done by Ledcor, which the Department of Economic Development provided to the News, shows the first cost estimate didn’t account for over 1,100 culverts that would be required.

That first report also proposed to bury the line directly beneath the road bed, something that’s now deemed unfeasible.

“The risk to both the proposed fibre cable and the road structure were deemed excessive by installing the cable in the road prism,” the report reads.

It also recommended against buyring the line in permafrost.

“Upon recommendations from the Northern Climate Exchange as well as Ledcor’s experience with fibre construction on other projects in similar environments, it is proposed to avoid buyring the cable in permafrost,” the report reads.

Ledcor is one of the companies that was involved in the construction of the MVFL.

Instead the second report proposes a combination of shallow buried cable and surface-laid conduit for the majority of the route north of Tombstone National Park to Inuvik.

Surface-laid cable offers “minimal environmental impact and lower construction costs,” the report said.

It did list 10 potential risk associated with surface-laid cable, including cable theft, animals chewing on the line, wildfire and damage from highway accidents.

Environmental and heritage assessments along the line’s route were also conducted but the department refused to release them. Those reports list heritage sites and wildlife habitats, something the department doesn’t want made public over concerns the heritage sites could be disturbed and the wildlife impacted.

The lack of redundancy has caused regular internet outages in the territory during the summer when construction crews have accidentally sliced the only fibre line running through northern British Columbia.

Yukon’s information technology sector has been vocal about the need for redundancy, arguing it’s needed to boost the industry.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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