Arctic Fibre says takeover by Alaskan company won't affect plans for Nunavut broadband

The project to bring high-speed internet to Nunavut via a cable running along the Northwest Passage will go ahead as planned despite a recent takeover by an American company, says Michael Cunningham, CEO of Arctic Fibre.

Fibre optic link for Nunavut communities now phase 3 of Quintillion project

Quintillion plans to connect Japan and western Europe with a fibre optic cable. (Quintillion Subsea Holdings)

The project to bring high-speed internet to Nunavut via a cable running along the Northwest Passage will go ahead as planned despite a recent takeover by an American company, says Michael Cunningham, CEO of Arctic Fibre.

The Toronto-based company planned to build a nearly 16,000 kilometre submarine fibre optic cable connecting Asia to Europe. Seven Nunavut communities — Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Igloolik, Hall Beach, Cape Dorset and Iqaluit — would benefit from the fibre optic backbone.

This week, Arctic Fibre announced its assets were acquired by Quintillion Subsea Holdings from Anchorage, Alaska. The two companies aren't strangers. They had already partnered for the Alaskan section of the network. Cunningham has now joined Quintillion's board.

Cunningham said the project is "still very much the same as before." 

​In a news release, Quintillion describes the project in three phases, where phase 3 would bring the cable from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, through the Northwest Passage and then to Europe.

In a statement to CBC News, Quintillion says it "is unable to announce which communities the system will connect, or the timeline, for Phase 3."

Quintillion says phase 1 of the project, to bring the fibre optic network to the northwest coast of Alaska, is underway. Close to 2,000 km of cable will connect Nome, Kotzebue, Port Hope, Wainwright, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay. The company says it should be running by early to mid-2017.

Phase 2 is a fibre optic link from Nome to Asia.

In 2013, Arctic Fibre said the project would cost $620 million. Cunningham says the project is now fully funded thanks to the Cooper Investment Partners. The New York-based private investment firm is the majority investor in Quintillion, according to a news release.

In an email to CBC News, a Quintillion spokesperson wrote, "Past estimates that have been reported are outdated. Going forward we will not be disclosing the cost — but suffice it to say Quintillion and its investors are making a substantial investment to bring 21st century technology to the Arctic."

The North needs fibre optic

The Nunavut Broadband Development Corporation has "long championed" fibre optic broadband in the North, says executive director Oana Spinu, adding fibre optic broadband is the only way to meet long-term internet needs.

Arctic Fibre was the third private sector company trying to bring fibre optic to Nunavut, says Spinu.

She says fibre optic broadband projects in the Arctic need government help.

"For Nunavut in particular, our vast geography and small market make it very challenging for a private sector initiative alone to successfully bring fibre optic to the North," said Spinu.