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Multiple NWT communities lose all internet access for hours

The Northwestel building in downtown Yellowknife on November 20, 2020
The Northwestel building in downtown Yellowknife on November 20, 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Yellowknife and a range of other NWT communities lost all internet access for hours in a Friday outage considered significant even by the territory’s standards.

While residents in the North are used to outages now and then, almost all internet access – including cable and cell – dropped out at 1pm and remained unavailable for hours.

Only at around 6:30pm did some residents report their connectivity returning to normal.

Satellite internet services like Starlink were unaffected throughout. Increasingly, residents have been adopting Starlink to combat the likelihood of fibre outages, particularly after such an outage led to a days-long communications blackout in parts of the NWT during the height of the summer wildfire crisis.

Northwestel, the territory’s dominant land-based internet service provider and operator of the NWT’s fibre-optic cable network, said on Friday that damage to a fibre line was suspected again in this instance.



While the nature of the damage has not been confirmed by Northwestel, Yellowknife’s Weatherby Trucking reported that a separate firm had inadvertently mangled a fibre-optic cable in its yard, necessitating repair work.

Blair Weatherby, president of the company – which said it was not involved in the incident – described the fibre-optic line in the yard as “spaghetti” and said three Northwestel trucks had arrived in response.

Weatherby said a crew mulching trees from the summer’s work to clear fire breaks on Yellowknife’s western edge had brought an excavator into the yard. When an operator lifted up the excavator boom, he said, the machine sliced through a fibre-optic cable suspended 19 feet from the ground.

It wasn’t clear if that incident was the source of Friday’s outage. Weatherby said he understood that to be the case and Northwestel has been approached for confirmation.



Friday’s disruption extended well beyond Yellowknife.

Northwestel said customers in Behchokǫ̀, Whatĩ and Fort Providence were also affected. Residents in Inuvik, Norman Wells and Fort Smith also reported issues, though Northwestel did not include the towns in its list of communities experiencing disruption.

The City of Yellowknife, in a message delivered in person on a sheet of paper, said it had been advised to expect four to six hours of disruption.

The CBC said it was replacing its evening news broadcasts, Northbeat and Igalaaq, with southern equivalents because of the outage.