Fibre-optic link inches closer to construction

Fibre-optic link inches closer to construction
The Inuvik Satellite Station, receiving international interest because of its high potential for remote sensing capabilities, is awaiting the completion of the fibre-optic link.Photo: Terry Halifax.

The dream of faster communication all the way down the Mackenzie Valley is closer to becoming reality with last week’s announcement that the territorial government has shortlisted three developers interested in building and operating the NWT’s fibre-optic link.

The NWT department of Finance announced last week that ATCO Electric, Northern Lights Fibre and Plenary Group Canada Ltd. have been selected to participate in the request for proposals (RFP) stage of the project, which includes designing, building, operating and maintaining the piece of telecommunications infrastructure running from Inuvik to Checkpoint junction where the Liard Highway intersects Hwy. 7 to BC.

That line will eventually be extended to Tuktoyaktuk following the completion of the Inuvik-Tuk highway and will link up to Inuvik’s burgeoning satellite station facility, which is already attracting international interest for its prime remote sensing capabilities.

“What the GNWT is hoping to achieve is to basically connect the Mackenzie Valley communities to existing Canadian fibre-optic infrastructure,” said Sean Craig, financial policy analyst for the GNWT.

“The fibre link would provide enabling infrastructure for improved delivery of and access to services…as well as a sustainable regional economy.”

Those services include everything from health and social services to distance education, telephone and internet, and so on.

The timeline for the project earmarks summer 2014 for the awarding of a contract, seeing construction commence in the winter of 2015 with an anticipated completion date of summer 2016.

While the lucky proponent will be fully charged with running the infrastructure, the project remains a public one, owned entirely by the territorial government.

“The GNWT sees this as being a critical infrastructure project, but also recognizes that the expertise to design, build, operate and maintain it doesn’t lie with the GNWT, and sees this as something that best lies with the private industry in their knowledge and expertise and experience with these projects,” Craig said.

Due to the varying components of the infrastructure project, which include both construction and telecommunications, the three proponents in the standings are consortiums of several companies.

Northern Lights is a partnership between NorthwesTel and Ledcor construction, while ATCO’s proposal includes Denendeh Investment Inc. and Plenary represents a joint venture between SSi Micro and Valard.

Those three companies were selected from a list of five, which Craig said sent a positive signal to the department that the project would be in good hands.

“What was really promising is that we received five submissions during the RFQ (request for qualifications phase), so you know you’re going to have good, strong competition, which is really comforting moving into the RFP with the shortlist of teams, knowing that they have a lot of experience with this type of project.”

The department has yet to release the project description for the fibre-optic line, which would include any mitigation planning around potential environmental or socio-economic impacts.

Finance representatives finished their second round of consultation earlier this month, visiting communities in the Sahtu and Dehcho regions, as well as Inuvik. Though the majority of feedback has been positive, Craig said the overarching message coming from communities is that local businesses want in.

Though he was unable to give details of local business involvement while the RFP stage is ongoing, Craig said it is a priority for the government.

“The GNWT does recognize the importance of local opportunities,” he said. “It’s definitely a point that has been brought up over and over and we have addressed that in the RFP process.”

While consultations are completed, Craig said the department remains open to addressing any individual or community’s questions or concerns in relation to the project.

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