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Subsea internet cable to link up Prince Rupert

Cable to connect Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast with mainland network
A map shows the planned route of the Connected Coast fibre-optic cable. CityWest will lead the project in the north, while the Strathcona Regional District will lead the southern portion. Light-up is likely three years away. (Submitted)

A new subsea internet cable is planned for coastal B.C. with Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii in the loop.

Measuring nearly 3,500 km and costing $45 million, the fibre-optic cable will wrap around Vancouver Island with a spur to the Sunshine Coast, a link between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, and another link connecting Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. The network will bring high-speed internet to a total of 154 communities up and down the coast, including 44 First Nations.

CityWest is participating in the project to bring better internet to the North Coast.

“Right now, there is just one fibre line between Prince Rupert to Prince George and if that gets cut down or if that goes down, and we’ve had maintenance on it before, we have outages,” said Chris Marett, CEO of CityWest.

CityWest has been working on this project for over a year. During the forest fires in B.C. last summer Marett said some of their circuits went down and the back-up system in Prince George was overloaded. Having a link to the mainline will avoid this from happening again.

“With a redundant system it will help reduce outages if not eliminate them,” he said, adding that this is very important for a port city.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice noted that the link will boost access to healthcare and emergency services, as well as provide new opportunities in tourism and other industries.

“For too long people living along B.C.’s coast and Haida Gwaii have been forced to live in technological isolation, which has affected their ability to communicate and do business in a digital world,” she said in a press release.

Having a fibre-optic line will boost capacity, not only in Haida Gwaii, where internet traffic is bottlenecked by the wireless link across the Hecate Strait, but also in Prince Rupert, which will now be fed from two mainlines.

“I think that’s a really good local story,” Rice said. “In the age of huge telecom giants, that’s a huge success story for the city of Prince Rupert.”

Light-up is likely three years away, but a subsea cable will provide Haida Gwaii with far more capacity than the current link with the mainland — a growing number of microwave radio dishes on towers in Old Massett and on Mount Hays.

Funding for the $45-million cable will come from the federal Connect to Innovate program and Indigenous Services Canada, along with $11.4 million from the provincial government’s Connecting British Columbia program.

READ MORE: Fibre fast future for the city

Peter Lantin, kil tlaats’gaa, welcomed the announcement as president of the Haida Nation and as a director with Coastal First Nations.

“Dial-up is a distant memory for us on Haida Gwaii, but slow unreliable internet is a fact of life,” Lantin said.

For Coastal First Nations, Lantin said faster internet will allow the Coastal Watchmen program to run in real time. Over 100 watchmen patrol the coast to monitor heavy vessel traffic as well as compile data on tourism, enforcement, wildlife and cultural sites.

For Haida Gwaii, Lantin said the upgrade will improve existing education options with universities such as SFU and UBC, provide more telehealth services, make it easier for families to stay in touch, and boost economic opportunity.

Jane Philpott, Canada’s minister of Indigenous Services, said such high-speed networks are key to prosperity in rural and remote places across the country. Along with the coastal B.C. project, Canada’s $500-million Connect to Innovate program funds other backbone network upgrades as well as “last-mile” connections to remote and rural households that don’t have high-speed internet.

“Affordable high-speed internet cannot be considered a luxury,” Philpott said. “It’s a basic tool for all Canadians, regardless of where they live.”

READ MORE: Metlakatla to receive high-speed internet

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