Fibre optic project to pave way for data centre in city, officials say

Federal and provincial commitments to funding installation of a fibre optic loop along Highway 97 from Prince George to Dawson Creek are being hailed as a major boost to attracting a data centre to this city.

Shaw Communications Inc. will received $7.1 million from the provincial government for the work, as well as $1.9 million for a similar project along Highway 99 to the south. The federal government committed $11.7 million to the two projects; how much of that total will go to the Highway 97 project was not immediately available.

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For the better part of a decade, getting that second loop has been a "constant refrain" from city representatives, Coun. Garth Frizzell said, because it will provide the redundancy data centres need to continue to provide service should there be trouble with the loop running from Vancouver to Prince George.

"Think about this, if you're putting in a multi-million-dollar data centre in a community and they say there's only one line in, then you're running the risk of having you're whole business go down if that one line breaks," said Frizzell.

He said everything else is in place to attract one or more of the facilities, used to house computer systems, from servicing to land to electricity. A key selling point has been the city's climate.

"One of the big costs for energy on a data centre is the cooling, the air conditioning," Frizzell said. "And we've got the cold advantage."

Iceland has become an attractive home for data centres for the same reason, he said.

With the news in hand, economic development manager Melissa Barcellos said her office will step up promotional efforts with the intent of getting a data centre ready to operate at the same time Shaw has completed the project.

Barcellos said her office has had inquiries from four groups over the last half year, and three of them remain interested. She credited media reports for the interest that's been generated so far.

"We haven't done a lot of advertising about the data centres, other than through our website and going to different events and talking about it," Barcellos said.

The number of jobs a data centre provides varies with its size.

"We've seen anywhere from five jobs for a really small one, all the way up to 200 jobs, and they're not low-income positions," Barcellos said. "They're engineers and highly-skilled IT people."

She said the centres can also help attract other types of businesses who want access to such facilities, "depending on the type of data centre it is, of course."

Officials were unable to comment on when the project will start and be completed. Shaw representatives did not reply to a request for comment on Thursday. The distance between Prince George and Dawson Creek is about 400 kilometres.

B.C. Minister of Citizens' Services Jinny Sims emphasized the benefits the loop will bring to communities along the route, such as better access to emergency services, health care, education and business opportunities.

"High-speed internet service is a basic tool that all Canadians should have access to, regardless of their postal code," federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said in a press release.

Also part of the announcement, CityWest Cable and Telephone Corporation will receive $4 million from the federal government and $1.93 million from the provincial government for a new fibre-optic network to service 14 communities in the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District: Tintagel, Endako, Broman Lake, Wiley, Perow, Lake Babine, Topley Landing, Tchesinkut Lake, Weneez, Sinkut River, Nak'azdli, Nadleh Whuten, Stellat'en First Nation and Wet'suwet'en Village.

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