Northern Canada: Telecom outages cost Yellowknife economy $10M, chamber says

Birchwood Coffee Ko in Yellowknife closed early on Aug. 12 due to a telecommunications outage that affected the city. The outage meant the business was only able to accept cash for purchases. (Emily Blake/CBC)
Two telecommunications outages in Yellowknife, Northern Canada over the summer have cost the local economy close to $10 million, estimates the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce.

The outages on July 13 and Aug. 12 lasted between seven and 10 hours. Both incidents caused internet, TV and phone service disruptions in much of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and surrounding communities.

Deneen Everett, the chamber’s executive director, said without internet service, many businesses couldn’t accept debit or credit cards, and some were forced to close early.

Everett said she heard one restaurant in Yellowknife had to give away two free meals because of the disruption in August.

“There were no ATMs that worked nearby and they actually had to let their customers go … they had no way to pay,” she said.

The chamber estimates a one-day telecommunications outage in Yellowknife results in a gross domestic product (GDP) loss of $4.75 million.

“Given that we have two outages this year … we’re looking at almost $10 million in financial impact,” Everett said.

Both disruptions were caused by damage to a fibre optic cable. RCMP are investigating the cases as potential acts of vandalism, but are still looking into whether the incidents are connected.

This temporary emergency fibre optic cable lays on the ground along Highway 3 in the N.W.T. following a recent fibre cut. Northwestel says all permanent fibre is installed using ‘rigorous constructions standards,’ primarily buried or installed on electrical pole lines. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Chamber pushes outages as election issue

Northwestel has said a majority of the fibre optic cable running into the territory is protected by a redundant loop, or a secondary fibre path, although there is no redundant line in the single fibre optic cable that runs from Fort Providence, N.W.T., to Yellowknife.

The chamber is hoping to make internet outages a talking point in this fall’s territorial election. The issue is included in its five-point platform for candidates running in Yellowknife.

Internet access is a “core issue” for Yellowknife businesses, said the chamber. It wants the territorial government to work with Northwestel to build a second fibre path into Yellowknife by Dec. 31, 2021.

Everett said the chamber wants the territorial government to earmark $1.5 million in the 2020 budget to get the project started. It also wants the government to work with Northwestel to find an estimated $20 million in federal funding to build the fibre line.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: From wolves to ‘idiots’ with backhoes, threats to fibre lines in Northern Canada are many, CBC News

Finland: Major step towards a Europe-Asia Arctic cable link, Yle News

Norway: New satellites to boost communications in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian military to get fast, secure internet through trans-Arctic cable, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Northern Sweden to host more Facebook servers, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s first wireless 5G network to be built in Anchorage, Alaska Public Media

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi, CBC News

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