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NWTel working on unlimited internet, underwater fibre line – but don't hold your breath


Yellowknife's internet provider updated city council on a pair of promising proposals this week.

An additional fibre optic line could be in the works after a summer of notable outages, said Paul Gillard, Northwestel's vice president of business markets.

Paul Gillard, vice president of business markets at Northwestel, says the application for unlimited internet from the CRTC has been sent. Brett McGarry/NNSL photo

The telecom company also has a proposal to offer unlimited internet packages with no data cap or bandwidth throttling.

On Oct. 3 NWTel applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for funding to expand its internet capabilities.

The universal broadband fund was created by the CRTC when the federal government set the goal of providing high-speed internet to every Canadian, and to provide the option to buy an "unlimited" package.

Every community throughout the territory would get access to speeds of 50 megabits per second download and 10 MB/s upload, whether through a direct fibre connection or satellite.

Gillard promised there would also be no rate increases for five years and unlimited would not only be an option for the most expensive packages.

"There will be concessions made to affordability at the bottom end of rate plans so the internet remains to be accessible to all people," said Gilllard.

The unlimited packages in Yellowknife will not taper, or decrease speed, after certain amounts of data have been used and unlimited will be an additional costed option for your internet package at "around $50."

Addressing questions from councillors on the cost of internet in the North, Gillard said that with efforts to reduce costs here and rising costs in the south that in three years Northern internet would cost 30 or 40 per cent more than in the south.

The proposal to the CRTC was submitted on Oct. 3 but Gillard is unsure how long it will take for that application to go through.

The department of redundancy department

After two acts of vandalism disrupted commerce in Yellowknife and surrounding communities this year, internet access emerged as a political sticking point in both the territorial and upcoming federal elections.

Gillard said Northwestel wants to take action and is willing to contribute $5.5 million to a project to connect the city to a redundant fibre optic line run under Great Slave Lake from Fort Resolution (via Alberta) to Dettah.

A map showing where the redundant fibre optic line will run under Great Slave Lake.
Photo courtesy of Northwestel.

Getting the project started would involve $3 million worth of start up construction, geological and other surveys and connecting fibre from Dettah to Yellowknife, for which NWTel is willing to pay half.

Gillard said the company would apply to the GNWT for the other half.

Once the main project is ready to begin, NWTel is willing to contribute 25 per cent, to a maximum of $4 million, to the building of the line. The remaining 75 per cent would come from the federal and territorial governments.

Gillard said NWTel would own the infrastructure but would also be accepting the responsibility to maintain the line, all of which would come at no cost to customers.

"What our business can bear without having to address people's bills is $5.5 million," he said. "That's why we selected that number. Ultimately residents aren't willing to pay more for redundancy."

Presenting at a committee meeting Monday, Gillard said the company has taken some immediate measures.

"We have taken steps to protecting the existing line," said Gillard. "Even though we are protecting it, it is a non-redundant line and until there is full redundancy, there will be risk."

More "slack-loops" have been installed, some cameras have been added and a security company now patrols the line.

Currently, NWTel only has a minute microwave back up system which can handle roughly one per cent of Yellowknife's bandwidth requirements.

Gillard said that although the city will not be contributing funding to the project, the best thing city workers and councillors can do is be vocal advocates to higher levels of government.

"People tend forget there was an internet cut three months ago because the internet worked yesterday, worked today and will probably work tomorrow," said Gillard.

"Please do me a favour, continue to be an advocate for redundant fibre."