A New Fiber Optic Network that Spans Half the Globe has been Proven Feasible

Tokyo to London fiber optic network, through the Northwest Passage may bring broadband to remote Canadian areas

In the remote Northern Canadian communities and territories such as Nunavut, Internet services are considerably slower, more expensive and more limited than the rest of the country. The factors that are holding this region back are Nunavut’s lack of cable infrastructure, tiny consumer base and remote location.

There are few signs that these northern populations are going to see any of those factors change in the near future. Internet access has become a more vital educational and economic resource anywhere in the world, says Iqaluit, Nunavut mayor, John Graham. “From a telecommunications standpoint, it is the most serious problem we face,” he says. Iqaluit is Nunavut’s most populated city with 6,699 citizens.

However, there are some signs that the situation may change in the not too distant future. Arctic Fibre confirmed the feasibility of laying a cable in Canada’s Arctic waters in August. The massive fiber cable project is part of an ambitious plan to build a 15,700-kilometre fiber optic network through the Northwest Passage connecting Tokyo and London. The cable would be connected to seven hubs throughout Nunavut bringing broadband Internet to over 50 percent of the population of the territory.

Nonetheless, the prospect of broadband Internet in Iqaluit is still a distant one, according to the project’s engineers. Even without unforeseen technical glitches and with government support ground breaking is not set to begin until 2015. “The potential return on investment for Canadian northern governance, scientific research, economic development, healthcare, education, emergency response and national security is substantial and cannot be matched,” said Arctic Fibre CEO, Douglas Cunningham.

Of course, the last mile may pose a problem to lower populated areas and government intervention may be needed to make it cost effective. In many parts of the North reliable, inexpensive, high-speed Internet may still be extremely rare. Geographic remoteness, weather conditions and the lack of physical infrastructure for providing broadband Internet, such as fiber optic lines pose a problem.

Low population density makes many communities less cost effective for companies to provide services, says service provider NorthwesTel. Paul Flaherty, CEO of NorthwesTel, said, “If you think of all of Nunavut, it’s around 30,000 people. “Ottawa alone is probably a couple of million – that’s quite a different marketplace in terms of density. Nunavut is two-million square kilometres, Ontario is half the geographic size.”

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