Free fibre-optic internet connections starting soon

Gwaii Communications to link up 341 homes in six communities

Haida Gwaii’s latest internet upgrade is going underground.

Starting this fall, the $4.9-million, grant-funded project led by Gwaii Communications will bring free fibre-optic internet hookups to 341 homes in Tow Hill, Port Clements, Tlell, Lawn Hill, Miller Creek, and Sandspit.

Jeff Lavoie, owner of Gwaii Communications, says there will be absolutely no cost to connect, unless homeowners turn down the offer now and reconsider years later.

“We’re going to keep it open for a year and a half or two years,” Lavoie said.

Funded largely by the federal government, with a $500,000 contribution from GwaiiTel, $400,000 from the province, and $163,000 from Gwaii Communications, the free “last-mile” connections to Haida Gwaii’s outlying communities would otherwise cost between $6,000 and $9,000. One condition for the federal funding is a five-year price freeze on internet service rates.

Besides internet services, the new lines can also carry digital phone and TV signals.

At first the plan was to extend Haida Gwaii’s existing network, which already delivers highspeed access to most homes in Old Massett, Skidegate, and Queen Charlotte, by branching out underground from the GwaiiTel mainline along the highway and then connecting individual houses using overhead lines strung on power poles.

But after reviewing the poles available, planners found it would cost less and be more secure to run the lines underground right to each person’s house.

“It’s entirely up to them where it goes, and how it goes in,” Lavoie said.

Gwaii Communications will hold a series of community meetings next week to explain the details and sign people up for site work.

Starting with Tow Hill and working south, crews will mainly use a small excavator to install the conduit in narrow, foot-deep trenches. A drill rig will be used to install it under roads or watercourses.

All the new fibre-optic lines will be registered with BC One Call and mapped as built to avoid accidental line breaks. Anyone who damages a line without first calling BC One Call will be held liable for the repair.

Besides homes, the project will connect Agnes L. Mathers Elementary as well as the community centre, ambulance station, airport, and library in Sandspit.

Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary, the Skidegate band office, the Kay Centre, the main ferry terminal, the Port Multiplex and ambulance station will also get connected.

The plan does include a subsea link from Skidegate to Sandspit, but the route and permits haven’t been finalized. The total bandwidth for Sandspit is currently capped at 70 megabits per second (Mbps) because it is connected by a microwave radio link over Skidegate Inlet.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Lavoie said. “The money’s there, we just have to get some approvals.”

“If that doesn’t happen, we’ll figure something else out.”

In the big picture, the expanded network will create more total demand for internet bandwidth on Haida Gwaii. Islands internet use is already at 60 per cent of the capacity provided by the 800 Mbps wireless link over Hecate Strait, so to avoid slowdowns islanders are depending on the 2020 completion date of the planned subsea link with the mainland.

This week’s community meetings hosted by Gwaii Communications will all go from 6 to 9 p.m.

They will be held Oct. 8 at the Port Multiplex (Seniors Room), Oct. 9 for Tow Hill (Trout House, 9102 Tow Hill Road), Oct. 10 in the Haida House at Tllal, Oct. 11 in the Sandspit Community Hall, and Oct. 12 meeting for Miller Creek and Lawn Hill (261 Miller Road). For more information, email marylou@gwaiicomm.com.



andrew.hudson@haidagwaiiobserver.com

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