Det’on Cho and Northwestel launch plan to build lake fibre line


Det’on Cho Management and Northwestel have signed an agreement that looks to build a submarine fibre line across Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife.

At the moment, Yellowknife is connected to the rest of the planet by one fibre line running alongside Highway 3 on the lake’s western edge. When that fibre line goes down – for example, when people shoot the thing – Yellowknife loses connectivity.


Building a second, submarine line across the lake will provide redundancy for Yellowknife and, Det’on Cho says, help eight other communities around the lake at the same time.

Northwestel has been planning a backup fibre line like this for years. John Henderson, Det’on Cho’s chief operating officer, said the funding environment was now right to get support from commercial lenders and levels of government.

Henderson expects the project to cost between $15 million and $20 million. Of that, he estimates just under 50 percent will need to come from either the territorial or federal governments. Preliminary, informal conversations have been had with those agencies but nothing formal is in place.

From left: Northwestel's Paul Gillard, Det'on Cho's John Henderson, and Det'on Cho's Paul Gruner sign a memorandum of understanding
From left: Northwestel’s Paul Gillard, Det’on Cho’s John Henderson, and Det’on Cho’s Paul Gruner sign a memorandum of understanding. Photo: Det’on Cho Management

Det’on Cho, which is the economic development wing of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, will make its money back by leasing the finished fibre line to Northwestel.

“The premise of the project would be Det’on Cho Management LP will build it – we finance the build, and we hire Northwestel to do it because they have expertise in fibre construction,” said Henderson on Thursday.


“They would then lease that back from us for a period of 20 years at a predetermined rate. That serves as their redundancy on their fibre network. They would be the users and operators of the asset.”

The companies hope to build the line in 2023, filling what Henderson called a “significant gap” in the territory’s broadband infrastructure.

“I think it’s fairly critical. We haven’t had anything more than a one-day outage in Yellowknife and surrounding areas to date, but my position has always been it’s a matter of when it happens,” he told Cabin Radio.

“The current fibre line gets engulfed in a forest fire for three or four days, or a week? Without internet, everything goes down. One day is a real pain in your behind, but when you get into three, four, five days, it becomes a real problem. People don’t get paid, they can’t buy groceries or medicine.


“We’ve needed it for a long time.”

In a news release, Northwestel vice president Paul Gillard was quoted as saying the work represented “a First Nation-led project that has the potential to strengthen the NWT’s fibre network, while bringing jobs and private-sector investment to the region.”