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Northwestel plans fix, compensation after fibre line vandalism

Yellowknife's Northwestel building is pictured in July 2019
Yellowknife's Northwestel building is pictured in July 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Northwestel is considering how to compensate clients after the fibre line to Yellowknife was cut in an apparent act of vandalism, causing a widespread communications outage.

Yellowknife, Behchokǫ̀, and Whatì were affected for most of Saturday while the telecoms company’s crews worked on a temporary fix.

Northwestel spokesperson Andrew Anderson said permanent repairs are now in progress. RCMP continue to investigate what they earlier called “senseless vandalism” of the line along Highway 3 between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ on Saturday morning.

“We have temporary repairs in place, so the service is working, but there is a bit more remediation work to get the infrastructure fully restored,” said Anderson. That work is not expected to further impact customers.



The line in question – “about as wide as if you held your thumb and forefinger together,” said Anderson – is mostly buried underground.

However, in places where bedrock and water crossings make this impossible, the line is strung along aerial poles. That’s the case on parts of the north side of Great Slave Lake, close to Yellowknife, where there is an abundance of bedrock.

While installed to “rigorous construction standards,” said Anderson, physical infrastructure like this can be impacted by events such as landslides – or vandalism.

When a line goes down on southern parts of the fibre network, another line can take over temporarily. On the north side of Great Slave Lake, only one strand exists.



“That one strand of fibre is a little more exposed to cuts, and those cuts do have an impact when they happen,” said Anderson.

‘Case-by-case’ compensation

Another strand is on the radar at Northwestel but, for the time being, there is no active project to make this happen.

“Fibre lines are multi-million dollar investments and we just need to look for ways to be able to conduct these projects economically,” said Anderson, “in a way that won’t negatively impact those who take our services and, in the end, pay the bills.”

Northwestel said it is working out how compensation for Saturday’s disruption may be provided.

“We have different customers in the city, from business customers and residential customers to large enterprise,” Anderson said.

“We are going to work on a case-by-case basis with customers to ensure compensation is forthcoming where appropriate.”

Customers who have questions about compensation can reach Northwestel’s customer care line at 1 888 423-2333.

Outage ‘significant’ to RCMP

RCMP Staff Sergeant Dean Riou told Cabin Radio the disruption was more significant than people not being able to refresh their Facebook feed every few hours.



Unable to route calls through the RCMP’s communications centre, police in smaller detachments had to physically sit in the office to take calls.

“It was very significant to the RCMP. It ties up our resources and also delays police responses,” said Riou.

In a statement emailed to Cabin Radio, Doug Gillard – who oversees emergency management for the City of Yellowknife – stated fire and ambulance services were not affected Saturday as emergency dispatch uses phone lines and computers not reliant on the internet.

The work of municipal enforcement officers was affected, however, as they weren’t able to access the territorial motor vehicle database during traffic stops.

Police are still looking for information from anyone who travelled along Highway 3 between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife between 7 and 7:45am on Saturday – in particular, those who might have been operating a dashcam.