Northwestel: Yukon fibre line vulnerable to damage

Northwestel says it's looking at ways to protect Yukon's internet connection, after a territory-wide outage on Wednesday.

Yukon premier promises plan to improve connectivity, after Wednesday's territory-wide outage

"Obviously, there is always work to do," said Andrew Anderson, director of communications for Northwestel. (CBC)

Northwestel is looking at ways to strengthen Yukon's broadband connection, following yesterday's territory-wide outage.
Internet and some phone services were down for several hours yesterday after the only fibre optic line into Yukon was accidentally cut, near Watson Lake.

"Obviously this is a reality of working in a remote operating area as we do," said Andrew Anderson, spokesperson for Northwestel.

"There is always work to do, and there is considerable work to do in the North, to ensure more robust redundancy throughout the entire network."

The company believes the line was accidentally cut by excavation work being done near Watson Lake.

​Anderson says there is a back-up microwave network for Yukon but it has limited capacity, and so becomes easily congested.

Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski  issued a statement Wednesday evening, saying his government remains committed to establishing a new fibre optic link "that will provide redundancy for Yukon's telecommunications network."

The premier declined an interview with CBC, but said his government will announce a plan for telecommunications "in the coming months."

'No protection at all'

An exposed section of Northwestel's fibre line alongside the Alaska Highway. (Devon Golubic)

Northwestel's lone fibre line into Yukon runs alongside the Alaska highway, often buried but sometimes visible above ground. Wednesday was not the first time the line has been damaged, disrupting service in the North.

Photos circulating on social media Thursday show a narrow line, clearly suspended off the ground. Devon Golubic spotted it while driving through a construction zone on the Alaska Highway two weeks ago, saying the cable had "no protection at all.​"​ The photos of the exposed fibre line generated a lot of interest and comment on social media. 

"We had to stop for a pilot car during road construction and noticed this line and it clearly says on it 'the fibre optic cable line,'" Golubic wrote to CBC.

Northwestel has confirmed that the cable in the photos is the territory's fibre line. The company says a 3.5 kilometre section of line currently runs above ground through the woods near Rancheria, and will be reburied once highway construction in the area is complete. 

The company admits the narrow line is often vulnerable to damage.

"Northwestel occasionally has to rebury sections of underground fibre in areas where they've been washed out," spokesperson Adriann Kennedy said. She asks anybody who sees exposed cable to call the company.

"This allows our technicians to rebury and protect the line," she said.