While Whatì residents celebrate Tuesday’s opening of a new road connecting their community to the NWT highway system year-round, they must wait another year for high-speed internet.
The completion of the Tłı̨chǫ Highway, or Highway 9, this month was initially planned to coincide with installation of a 115-km fibre line that would increase internet speeds in the community of around 530 people.
Supply chain issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, have pushed the line’s anticipated completion date to October 2022.
In an email to Cabin Radio, Tłı̨chǫ executive officer Laura Duncan said though trenching and burying of the conduit alongside the highway was finished ahead of schedule, delivery of the fibre-optic cable itself was delayed due to pandemic-related “labour issues” at factories during “extreme demand” for fibre-optic connections across North America.
That fibre cable is now expected to arrive in the NWT next spring or summer and installation completed over four to six weeks. Northwestel will then be responsible for completing the “last mile” distribution system that connects homes and businesses in Whatì to the fibre network.
The federal, NWT, and Tłı̨chǫ governments announced the fibre line and pledged a collective $11 million in funding for the project in April 2021.
At the time, the Tłı̨chǫ Government said the fibre line’s installation would use the same workforce, equipment, and camp facilities being used for construction of the Tłı̨chǫ Highway. Some modular buildings that were part of that work camp are now being used by the NWT government for a day shelter in Yellowknife.
Duncan said 86 percent of the fibre project is complete and installation of the fibre line inside the conduit will not require a large crew or equipment. As a result, she said, when the fibre project resumes next spring, it will not be negatively affected by completion of the Tłı̨chǫ Highway and closure of that work camp.
Duncan said the overall cost difference for the fibre project is “expected to be negligible.”
According to the Tłı̨chǫ Government, Whatì currently has internet download speeds of 15 mbps and upload speeds of two mbps – well below the federal target of 50 and 10 mbps respectively.
Whatì was the only NWT community not included in Northwestel’s Every Community Project, which aims to improve connectivity in NWT and Yukon communities. It was excluded because, unlike other communities, it requires fibre-optic cable. Before work began on the all-season road, there was no business case for installing that infrastructure.