CityWest hopes to install a subsea internet cable that could give Haida Gwaii an uninterrupted fibre-optic link to the mainland.
Owned by the City of Prince Rupert, the local telecom company applied in April for a federal “Connect to Innovate” grant that would cover the cost of the subsea cable connecting northern and southern B.C.
GwaiiTel, the islands non-profit telecom society, has advocated for a subsea link, and the CityWest application also won support from local reps on the North Coast Regional District.
“It comes down to what the federal government decides,” says Donovan Dias, vice president of sales and project management for CityWest.
By providing a fast, reliable connection that is not threatened by any natural or human-caused cuts to the existing buried line along Highway 16, CityWest argues that a subsea cable has potential to attract new business and residents to northwest B.C., as well as providing better connections for healthcare, education, and emergency-preparedness organizations.
North of Haida Gwaii, residents in Sitka, Wrangell, and other parts of southeast Alaska have been served since 2008 by GCI’s Alaska United East — a subsea loop that connects with other subsea internet cables connecting Alaska to points in Washington and Oregon state.
While rural telecom companies such as Xplornet are expanding internet service over satellite — the newest Xplornet satellite is expected to offer 25 Mbps connections across Canada by the end of the year — Dias said in the long term, fibre-optic lines such as the one GwaiiTel had installed from Old Massett to Skidegate last year are hard to beat.
“When you look at fibre, there’s no upper limit for the most part,” he said.
“I can’t imagine gigabit speeds on satellite in the short term, or even 100 Mbps or more, at least to the consumer.”
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada is expected to decide on the grant application later this summer or early fall.