Telecommunications fibre is the highway of a digital economy

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, October 3rd, 2014 by Currie Dixon, Minister of Economic Development

Monday’s internet, mobile and landline telephone service breach affected virtually all Yukoners. This provides us with yet another reminder of the vulnerability of our telecommunications infrastructure.

Whether it was an errant spade or backhoe, a third party construction company in northern BC caused a significant disruption in the lifestyles and economic activities of Yukoners. Public statements from Northwestel suggest that the line was cut somewhere between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake. Thankfully, Northwestel’s backup microwave system kicked in and service was not entirely lost. The company also deserves commendation for its rapid response to the fibre cut, as it seems that in approximately 12 hours, services were restored. However, as wireless customers and businesses that rely on connectivity will certainly attest, telecommunications services were noticeably degraded for at least one business day.

While the degradation in service to wireless customers was limited and the negative impacts on Yukon businesses were curtailed, the incident once again highlights a glaring gap in Yukon’s telecommunications infrastructure: the lack of a redundant fibre line to the South.

Numerous studies commissioned by Yukon’s department of Economic Development and others have noted this infrastructure gap and have recommended that it be addressed. Further, we have identified the route between Whitehorse and Skagway as the most promising option to provide such a redundancy.

The current Economic Development budget identifies approximately $600,000 to conduct the planning and take steps toward constructing such a project. The engineering and consulting firm Stantec has recently begun this work. Once Yukon government has decided on an appropriate business model, ownership structure and construction plan, work will commence to install the new fibre optic cable.

For decades or longer, public governments have invested in physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways and ports to facilitate economic activity and growth. In today’s modern economy, where so much commerce and business is conducted online, telecommunications infrastructure must be considered just as important as other traditional infrastructure.

Fibre optic cables represent the highways of a digital economy. As such, governments have a role to play in investing and developing these critical components of our modern economy. Our government recognizes this and looks forward to playing our part in addressing this gap in telecommunications infrastructure for the benefit of our people and our economy.

Currie Dixon

Minister of Economic Development