Northwestel's Dempster line won't fix all internet problems: expert

Northwestel's proposed fibre optic line along the Dempster Highway won't solve all of Yukon's internet woes, said a local technology expert.

Many existing service disruptions not necessarily mitigated by Canada North fibre loop

Northwestel favours the all-Canada route for a northern fibre optic loop chosen by the Yukon government. (Submitted by Northwestel)

Northwestel's proposed fibre optic line along the Dempster Highway won't solve all of Yukon's internet woes, according to a local technology expert. 

While Martin Lehner with Orange Technology generally agrees with the Yukon government that the "North Canada Fibre Loop" will reduce internet service disruptions for Yukoners, he said it's important to recognize its limitations. Orange Technology is a third-party IT service provider that competes with Northwestel for phone office systems but not for internet services.

Lehner said the new line will help when there are territory-wide outages, but it will do nothing to address "last mile delivery" failings, those that occur between Northwestel's facilities and end points such as homes and businesses.

"These issues will not be solved by a redundant fibre line [up the Dempster]," he said.

Northwestel's $32 million cable will connect to a fibre optic line being built up the Mackenzie Valley to Inuvik, according to the Yukon government. 

But Lehner said the majority of the internet outages his clients complain about are caused by last mile delivery problems. He said some clients in the McCrae industrial area lose internet service daily and one customer downtown complains of outages lasting three to six minutes, an average of 12 times a day. 

Northwestel upgrading infrastructure: spokesperson

A spokesperson for Northwestel says the North Canada fibre loop is just one aspect of redundancy. 

A technology expert in Whitehorse says certain internet outage problems will not be solved by the 'Northern Canada Fibre Loop.' (CBC)

"Northwestel has invested significantly. If we look at right here in Whitehorse, over a million dollars this summer to improve that last mile, to improve the network connections, that go right into the home," said Andrew Anderson.

He disputes Lehner's claim that there are several clients who experience frequent outages, saying Northwestel has not heard similar complaints.

"We've gone through neighbourhood by neighbourhood, street by street ... to ensure that we can deliver faster, more reliable services." 

Anderson says infrastructure upgrades have improved internet speed across the territory, although critics say the packages are still overpriced

​Meanwhile, Lehner said Orange Technology has shared its concerns with the Yukon government, including the belief that the fibre optic line up the Dempster Highway shouldn't come under private ownership. 

"If the taxpayers are paying for it, we certainly believe that public ownership is the right model." 

Server disruptions also not fixed by Dempster line 

Two weeks ago, people in several communities across the North lost phone and internet service for several hours, due to a Northwestel server issue.

Anderson said the Dempster line alone wouldn't prevent issues like that from happening but overall redundancy will.

"Redundancy is what will ... ensure there are less network outages and less network disruptions and we'll continue to invest in that." 


  • An earlier version of this story quoted Lehner saying that several clients lose internet for three to six minutes at a time, an average of 12 times daily, when in fact he referred to just one downtown client who made such a complaint.
    Nov 23, 2015 6:28 PM CT


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