Ploughing for fibre-optic cable has started in a small community near Fort McMurray, Alta., as the longest leg of the province

Construction on longest leg of SuperNet project underway

Ploughing for fibre-optic cable has started in a small community near Fort McMurray, Alta., as the longest leg of the province’s SuperNet project continues to push forward with a contract between Total Telecom Inc. and Bell West.

The SuperNet project is a Government of Alberta initiative to build a broadband network linking 422 communities in the province. The government has invested $193 million over three years to build the network, while Bell West – the project’s prime contractor – has invested an additional $102 million.

“Next to Total Telecom’s own network running from Edmonton to the British Columbia border through Grande Prairie, this is the next largest piece of infrastructure,” said Larry Cunningham, vice-president of corporate affairs based in Edmonton.

The 540-kilometre leg of the backbone, linking about 45 communities in rural areas of the province, is expected to be operational by the end of the year, said Calgary-based Bell West spokesperson Jamie McNaul. Construction on this leg started April 15 and is slated for completion in October 2003.

Contractors at Total Telecom have been making headway with laying fibre-optic cable about 275 kilometres south of Fort McMurray between Anzac and Conklin, through some fairly challenging terrain. The land has frost-laden muskeg sections, or peat bog, which has to be ploughed before it thaws this spring, McNaul said.

The ploughing process is a time-intensive project for the contractor.

First the plough, a sharp blade, must make way for the conduit, Cunningham explained. The conduit is then closed over and then high-pressure air compressors are used to “jet” the fibre into the conduit.

The entire leg will eventually run between Edmonton, St. Albert and Fort McMurray, and will be part of the 2,500-kilometre backbone portion of the network linking 27 large communities in the province.

The Alberta SuperNet network is composed primarily of fibre-optic cable, covering over 10,000-kilometres and amounting to about 80 per cent of the network build. Fixed wireless point-to-point links will cover more than 2,000 kilometres and account for the remaining 20 per cent of the network.

Financial details on the contract between Bell West and Total Telecom could not be released because of a confidentiality agreement, but Cunningham did say it is a multi-million dollar deal.

Axia SuperNet Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Axia NetMedia Corp. has a 10-year renewable contract from the Government of Alberta to operate and manage access to the Alberta SuperNet.

Alberta SuperNet is scheduled to be complete in mid-2004.

For additional information, check out the Alberta SuperNet on the Web at www.albertasupernet.ca.

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