Canadian province draws on dark fibre in difficult times

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The government of the Canadian province of Manitoba is to make use of the unused ‘vast’ fibre optic network that was built some years ago.

Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said in the announcement: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband connectivity and the need to ensure people across the province have access to critical information, such as distance learning programs or internet-based mental health services. We want to help close the telecommunication gap in our province to better connect rural, remote and indigenous communities, improve safety and access to information and learning resources.’

The province owns thousands of kilometres of fibre-optic cable through Manitoba Hydro as part of a network that was created to communicate with northern hydroelectric facilities and transmit data. However, much of it has never been used, with no plans for use in the future. This marks the first time that Manitoba has sought to use a broad-based, provincewide request for proposals (RFP) for companies to leverage this under-used fibre-optic network to improve broadband services i.

Wharton continued: ‘By allowing qualified carriers and providers to tap into this fibre-optic capacity, we will make use of an existing resource rather than building new infrastructure. This network will allow providers to offer or improve service to the significant number of rural and remote communities in Manitoba that are largely underserved by high-speed, competitive and reliable telecommunications.’

The province issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) towards the end of last year to seek carriers and other providers who could use existing infrastructure to make services available. The RFQ was used to pre-qualify and create a shortlist of up to five proponents, who are assisting in defining the scope and scale of this opportunity.  

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