Fibre-optic connections delayed

Islanders will have to wait until at least September before local ISPs can begin to tap Haida Gwaii’s new fibre-optic network.

Hold the Netflix, and don’t drop the dial-up.

Islanders will have to wait a bit longer to tap Haida Gwaii’s new fibre-optic network.

Carol Kulesha, chair of the GwaiiTel Society, says the core of the $10-million upgrade is installed, tested and approved.

But the rest of the project hit a months-long delay, in part so GwaiiTel could check that it has enough money to cover some key add-ons.

“We stopped everything to make sure the grant we got from the federal government covers all the next step,” said Kulesha.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t going to be stuck with a huge bill.”

The core of the GwaiiTel upgrade has two parts.

One is a new fibre-optic mainline that runs underground from Old Massett to Skidegate, with a spur to Tow Hill and a better radio link to Sandspit.

The other is a second radio link to Prince Rupert that will double the islands’ total Internet capacity.

GwaiiTel won a federal grant to cover the radio link and the fibre-optic line, but hoped to add more— back-up generators, a caching server to speed up web browsing, and utility boxes that the islands’ two Internet providers need to connect individual homes and businesses.

It took a month for GwaiiTel to confirm the funding, said Kulesha, and it could be early fall before the remaining equipment is all delivered and installed.

“It’s moving ahead,” she said.

“It’s just that I’m an impatient woman, and if it was done six months ago I would be happier.”

Once the whole system is ready, the islands’ two internet providers—QCIslands Net and Gwaii Communications—can starting connecting customers.

“We bring the bandwidth to the islands like a wholesaler—we don’t bring it to your house,” said Kulesha.

“Now it’s up to the ISPs, and what we’re trying to do is to provide them with extras.”

Besides the utility boxes, back-up power, and caching server, GwaiiTel hired the same company that installed the fibre-optic lines to draw up a detailed plan showing how the ISPs can best connect end users.

“The communities own this study,” said Kulesha, who is giving copies to village councils as well as ISPs.

Local MP Nathan Cullen has said there may be more federal funding to help with the cost of those “last-mile” connections.

Aboriginal Affairs may also fund some of the work, and the B.C. government recently said it has $2.7 million in similar grants.

Once the GwaiiTel upgrade is done and ISPs can use it, people living in mid-island communities such as Port Clements and Tlell will likely see the biggest increases in internet speeds.

The new network will also give Tow Hillers the first chance to go online without a costly satellite or cellular connection, though a few may still be seen waving phones on the beach.