West Coast mayors cautiously optimistic on fiber optic

It’s been over a year since West Coasters heard they were just a few months away from receiving high speed Internet through fiber optic cables and the line we seem to be waiting in doesn’t seem to be moving.

In early 2013, B.C. Hydro and Telus announced a plan to bring fiber-optic cables over Highway 4 and that the two companies were committed to work together and bring the project to fruition.

The plan was for Hydro to replace over 300 Hydro poles along the highway for Telus to coil fiber-optic cables through.

Hydro was confident their share of the work could be completed by November 2013 with Telus following behind in short order to connect the much needed cables to the West Coast.

In October 2013 local leaders were blindsided when Telus announced it was reassessing the project due to higher than expected cost estimates.

“It’s a total rug pulled out from underneath the economy,” Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving told the Westerly in October 2013. “The whole economy on the West Coast is stalled because of this.”

With Telus no longer ready to move forward, Hydro canceled its pole replacement plans and now, over a year later, the fiber optic build has not yet come back online and little news has come in to suggest it’s on the brink of activity. BC’s Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Minister Andrew Wilkinson assures work is being done to accomplish the stalled goal.

In a letter addressed to Ucluelet’s municipal council dated Oct. 24, Wilkinson wrote that efforts remain underway to bring fiber-optic Internet to the West Coast.

“This is a very expensive project, the costs of which are being shared between BC Hydro, Telus, Local First Nations, and the Province,” he wrote.

“While the circumstances delaying completion are regrettable, we remain confident that the build will be finalized and the much needed bandwidth made available.”

He suggested Telus plans to boost local bandwidth while the fiber-optic project’s struggles are hashed out.

“In the meantime, Telus has recently completed an interim upgrade to its existing microwave system supplying the West Coast that will provide some additional capacity. Testing remains to be completed before the system is fully operational,” he wrote.

“While not a long term solution to the bandwidth constriction issue in the region, it is a welcome development.”

Speaking to the Westerly News in October 2013, Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne foresaw an updated microwave system coming into play but doubted such an upgrade would address the West Coast’s need for high-speed.

“My fear is that by giving us an expanded or improved microwave service that that becomes an excuse to put off fiber optics for years, maybe decades,” she said last year.

Osborne told the Westerly News on Monday that she no longer carries this fear.

“Contrary to my view a year ago, I no longer view the Telus microwave upgrade as an impediment to bringing fiber optic cable to the West Coast,” she said.

She expressed optimism that the West Coast’s fiber optic build is still alive and kicking.

“Realizing the dream of high speed internet in our communities has been a very big priority for First Nations as well as for Mayor Irving and me and our respective Councils,” she said.

“The West Coast Fiber Build project is still very much alive, and discussions between our communities, Telus, BC Hydro, Network BC and the All Nations Trust Company-which took place as recently as last Thursday-are very promising. There are still a few i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed but I think we can expect to hear some good news before the end of the year.”

While Irving and Osborne were vocal in their disappointment during the early day’s of the project’s crash, they have kept candidly mum on the topic recently with both expressing mysterious optimism that the project will move forward.

“Although I know that we have made significant strides, I can’t really provide that information because I don’t want to jeopardize any of the internal discussions that are going on,” Irving told the Westerly News in August. “We’ve been asked to be very reserved in our comments…we want to be respectful of the parties; they’re working on a solution.”

Irving, who will be mayor until recently elected Dianne St. Jacques assumes the gavel in December, could not be reached for updated comment on this story by press time.

reporter@westerlynews.ca