Question re: Communication infrastructure - May 20, 2015

Mr. Silver: Over the last two years the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars studying the possibility of a second fibre optic link to the outside world through Juneau. This is an issue because we only have one link and it continues to get dug up in Alberta and B.C. All of the options looked at so far involve a major cash investment from the Yukon government. One report called for the government to create a privately owned company to implement a Whitehorse-Juneau fibre optic link with connections to Seattle that would offer Internet services in Whitehorse. The company would require a one-time grant of at least $12.8 million to cover half of the start-up costs and enable a business plan. The business plan also assumes a 10-year commitment from the Government of Yukon to purchase connection capacity from a new company.

We are a year further down the road in this project now. Is the government planning to invest millions of dollars to compete against Northwestel in the Internet business?

Hon. Mr. Hassard: It is important to realize that this is a very important piece of infrastructure to the Yukon and we are committed to ensuring that all Yukoners have good, reliable and reasonably priced fibre. We need to take our time. We need to look at all of the studies and look at all of our options, and we have not committed to any particular project at this time. We will continue to make sure that we have all of the information in front of us before we make a final decision and do what’s right for Yukoners.

Mr. Silver: Last year, the Yukon Party spent approximately $600,000 on the project, including $120,000 on a report that called for it to get into the fibre optic and Internet business. The report recommended that the government — the taxpayers — pay a one-time grant for at least $12.8 million to a new private company to establish a Whitehorse-Juneau fibre optic link. A new report puts the price of the line to Skagway or Juneau at $26 million. It also confirms — and I quote: “The YG is planning to make an investment in broadband communication infrastructure.”

The original business plan for this project assumed a 10-year commitment from the Government of Yukon to purchase connection capacity from the company that will operate this new cable. I guess that begs the question: Has the government decided that it will sign on for a 10-year contract to buy this service on this new line?

Hon. Mr. Hassard: This government is committed to moving forward with this, but we need to do this in a fiscally responsible fashion. We are committed to looking at all reports and all facets of moving forward with this project. We also want to ensure that we move forward in the best possible way. We will take our time, we will study all of the reports and we are committed to making sure that all Yukoners have high-speed, fast, affordable and reliable service for Internet.

Mr. Silver: Can the minister confirm that when he says, “We are committed to this” — does he mean that he is committed to the 10-year contract?

For the record, the Liberal caucus does support a second fibre optic link and we are also prepared to support public investment in seeing this link established — absolutely. What we are not prepared to support is the government picking winners and losers and funding money directly to one company or another in this endeavour without any competition. So lots of questions are being begged at this point.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the model that the Yukon government seems to be following. The N.W.T. has recently announced the building of a fibre optic link to Inuvik. Connecting to this line would also provide us with redundancy or backup that we need, including the communities outside Whitehorse. The previous minister seemed not too keen on that option and it seems like that is the mode we are going forward in now.

Will any government investment be given directly to one company or will there be a level playing field in which everyone interested is allowed to bid?

Hon. Mr. Hassard: As I have stated before, this government is committed to fast, affordable and reliable Internet service for all Yukoners. We will continue to look at all options and determine the best way for Yukoners to move forward.