Yukon to reconsider Dempster fibre project

A fibre-optic telecommunications link up the highway to Inuvik is still on the table, confirmed Economic Development Minister Currie Dixon in the legislature last week.

A fibre-optic telecommunications link up the highway to Inuvik is still on the table, confirmed Economic Development Minister Currie Dixon in the legislature last week.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver asked if the government is still considering that option, as the N.W.T. government recently committed to build fibre up to Inuvik on its side of the border.

“The government’s preferred option for a secondary Internet connection would see a link from Whitehorse though Skagway to Juneau and then on to Seattle. The minister said this spring that this was his preferred option and the premier reiterated their support in a letter to the editor recently,” said Silver.

“I guess the question now is how far down the Juneau rabbit hole we’ve gone,” he said.

A second Internet connection to Outside would dramatically increase the reliability of Yukon’s telecommunications. Currently the territory remains vulnerable to outages when backhoe operators in northern B.C. occasionally sever the sole existing line. That’s a big impediment to the Yukon government’s goal of growing the territory’s technology and communications industry.

Dixon replied that the Dempster option is still being considered.

“To answer the member’s question directly, yes, we are absolutely open to that option and we have had discussions with NorthwesTel and a number of other consultants about that option. It’s still very much on the table but, as I’ve indicated previously, up until this point the Skagway-Juneau option has looked a little bit more attractive but, with what’s going on in the Northwest Territories, that may cause us to reconsider the Dempster alternative.”

The government has hired consultants to look at the feasibility of both options, said Steve Sorochan, director of technology and telecommunications development.

Results are expected in the early new year, he said.

“We did direct them to look at both the Dempster route and the Juneau route, with the Juneau route being more likely at that point in time.”

With the new commitment from the N.W.T., it’s possible that could change, he said.

“Basically what they did is take a big risk factor out of the Dempster route.”

NorthwesTel has been a champion of the Dempster fibre option for years.

“From a redundancy standpoint it is absolutely a superior play,” said Curtis Shaw, NorthwesTel’s vice president of consumer markets.

It would secure the connection for all Yukon communities, not just those to the south of Whitehorse, he said.

And the Juneau option requires paying millions a year indefinitely to lease a line to Seattle, said Shaw.

The company has already laid fibre lines as far as Stewart Crossing, with plans to reach Dawson.

NorthwesTel is seeking partnerships with governments to get to Inuvik, said Shaw.

The N.W.T.‘s commitment makes that prospect a lot more promising, he said.

“Until that contract was closed two weeks ago, you wouldn’t want to build fibre up the Dempster.”

Sorochan said that both projects could end up built, and will be evaluated on their own merits.

“One happening doesn’t mean that the other won’t.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson @yukon-news.com

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