Northwestel looking to build fibre line under Great Slave Lake in Northern Canada

Paul Gillard, with Northwestel, says the project will cost a total of $25 million. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)
Northwestel Inc. is looking to build a fibre line under Great Slave Lake, following several telecommunication outages that left Yellowknife residents and businesses without internet for hours at a time this summer.

The underwater fibre line comes with a $25 million price tag, with Northwestel willing to commit $5.5 million to the project.

At a city council meeting Monday Paul Gillard, Northwestel’s vice president of business markets, told councillors the line would run along the bottom of the lake between Detah and Fort Resolution.

The line would then connect to a line from Fort Resolution that runs through Fort Smith, Hay River, and Fort Providence.

The idea is to create a redundancy loop — a backup, secondary fibre line to keep service running even if something happens to the first line.

While much of the territory already has this, there is no redundant line to Yellowknife, which meant there was no backup when the line between Yellowknife and Fort Providence was vandalized several times this summer.

A photo taken on Aug. 12, 2019 from Highway 3 near Yellowknife shows a sign warning of the fibre optic line overhead. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce has estimated that Yellowknife’s summer outages cost the local economy close to $10 million. In August Robert C. McLeod, then minister of finance, said he would talk to the company about backups for Yellowknife.

“What we hope to do is to build a local loop here that will provide redundancy just pretty much for the city of Yellowknife,” Gillard said.

Gillard said for now, Northwestel has started security patrols along this line, and has installed security cameras.

Gillard said Northwestel hopes to split the project’s $3 million startup cost with the territorial government, then spend $4 million on phase two, before working again with the territory to approach the federal government for the remaining $18 million once ready to start building.

“We’re very confident of being able to secure federal government money for the rest of it,” he said.

Gillard told councillors building this underwater line would not mean a higher bill for customers.

Unlimited internet

Another initiative Northwestel shared is its plan to offer unlimited internet.

“Right now it’s going to be an option for unlimited, so you sign up for your package, if you want unlimited on top of your package, give me an extra $50 is where we’re at right now,” explained Gillard, though he added this price isn’t final.

Northwestel submitted an unlimited broadband proposal to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Thursday.

He said it could take only days for unlimited packages to become available once approved by the CRTC.

Gillard said he couldn’t share the details of the proposal, but he said it includes Northwestel asking for tens of millions of dollars from the CRTC in funding.

He said more details will be made public later this week.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Internet now same speed across Canada’s Nunavut territory, 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

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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