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Fibre optic cable costly but possible: report

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 28, 2012

Installing and operating a fibre optic network in Nunavut is technically possible but would be costly, according to the Nunavut Fibre Optic Feasibility Study, released on May 8.

The study estimates linking all territorial communities with fibre optic, assuming Sanikiluaq would be served from a Nunavik network, at $1.05 billion. Another option is to construct a network serving only Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay and extending to Resolute, and that would cost about $342 million, states the report.

Since a single satellite serves the territory's Internet and communications, it limits the ability to improve connectivity because bandwidth is expensive. As such, many people have looked at fibre optic as a solution, said Oana Spinu, executive director at the Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation, which commissioned the study.

"At $1 billion, that's a substantial price tag," she said. "That (public-private partnerships) really wouldn't be possible in Nunavut because the price tag of $1 billion is almost the entire annual budget of the GN. So really it requires federal investments. "

The study concludes that installing and operating a fibre optic network with existing technologies is possible, with some modifications to adapt the technology to Arctic conditions. The report identifies a number of risks, such as the limited installation window, the changing ice conditions as well as the environmental review and permitting process.

While the usual reasons for investments in broadband - to improve economic development and quality of life - are certainly valid, said Spinu, it would be hard to justify such a large investment with only this argument.

"It's a way to attract mining activity in the territory if you have a robust and high-performance communications infrastructure companies can take advantage of," she said. "I think the discussion should be: How can all users in Nunavut have affordable and reliable Internet access and what's the best technology to deploy, depending on the situation?"

Elizabeth Kingston, the general manager of the Nunavut office of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said as exploration and mining activity in the territory increases, so will the need for higher-performance communications infrastructure.

"These proposed improvements in broadband servicing is another opportunity to increase investor interest in Nunavut," she said.

The study also examines options for a mixed telecommunications network of fibre optic- and satellite-served communities, including investing in a higher-performance satellite for non-fibre optic communities.

"Five, 10 years down the road, it might be a mix network, where you have satellite in some communities and fibre in other communities but the level of service to the end user is the same," said Spinu. "The technology delivering it isn't as important as what the end user gets. Doesn't matter what airline your litre of milk comes in on or what store you bought it from, the fact you have that litre of milk at an affordable price in your community is what counts."

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