NEWS: Nunavut March 28, 2012 - 5:06 am

Northern cable plan gains steam

Supporters call the $640-million project "important," critics maintain it's a "harebrained idea"


Postmedia News

The Canadian proponent of a new, 15,000-kilometre undersea fibre-optic cable that would link London and Tokyo via Canada’s Northwest Passage says the $640-million project — aimed at speeding global data transfers and revolutionizing telecommunications in the Far North — is gaining momentum toward a planned 2013 construction start.

Former Bay St. telecommunications analyst and investment banker Doug Cunningham, president of Toronto-based Arctic Fibre Inc., says he’s been buoyed by recent discussions with federal and territorial officials in this country as well as telecom authorities in Britain and Japan — opposite ends of the planned route for the seabed cable.

The garden hose-sized communication link is to be unspooled by a ship traversing the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans and — over a short stretch of land in Nunavut — threaded through a borehole where mainland Canada projects north into the High Arctic along the Boothia Peninsula.

Reduced sea ice in northern waters in recent years has prompted at least two other planned undersea cable networks through the Arctic.

Cunningham, who describes his company’s project as “environmentally benign,” said he has also begun the process of obtaining approvals from the Nunavut Impact Review Board ahead of a scheduled November 2013 start to cable-laying in a proposed branch of the network between Newfoundland and Baffin Island.

The Arctic Fibre president — in Britain on Tuesday “negotiating with European telecommunications carriers” and working “to complete arrangements for our U.K. landing station” on the Cornwall coast — told Postmedia News from London that he believes the Canadian government is “moving fairly rapidly to make this happen” in order to expand communications capacity in the Arctic and strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the North.

“The Department of National Defence in Cambridge Bay needs additional bandwidth, as does the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station,” said Cunningham, who recently detailed plans for the new, globe-girdling cable at a Pacific Telecom conference in Hawaii in January, when he also spoke to Nunatsiaq News.

“(Cambridge Bay) is where we’re going to be locating our mid-point cable landing station — 6,700 kilometres from London as cable is laid, and 8,100 kilometres from Tokyo in the other direction.”

Earlier this year, Arctic Fibre announced it had engaged New York-based consultancy AP Telecom to “efficiently manage through the myriad issues that will arise” as the project unfolds, Cunningham said at the time.

AP Telecom board member John Hibbard, who is also president of the Pacific Telecommunications Council, said the U.S. firm was “honoured to be a part of such an important project in one of the world’s fastest-growing telecom markets” and that the Arctic Fibre cable would help meet international carriers’ “voracious demands for bandwidth over the next decade.”

But the project has its doubters, among them the head of Canada’s largest satellite communications company.

“The whole thing is a harebrained idea,” CEO Dan Goldberg of Telesat, a competitor in the market Arctic Fibre is angling to enter, recently told the Toronto Star.

Cunningham, in turn, said Tuesday that “satellite’s a passé technology in many instances” and that undersea cables are key to creating new communications capacity around the world.