Fibre-optic network proposed for border crossings

A fibre-optic network project to link Canada’s border crossings to assist with security and the timely movement of goods and people was proposed to the country’s Industry Minister on Monday.

The project – called “Light Up the Border” – would link all 113 Canadian land border crossings and U.S. border points and was proposed by a committee of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) to Industry Minister Alan Rock. The committee was comprised of representatives from Bell Canada, Alcatel Canada, Dell Canada, IBM Canada, International Data Corporation Canada, J.E.D. New Media, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Canada, Rogers Communications, SOMA Networks and Telus.

“Just recently Minister Rock announced that projects that involve connectivity and broadband definitely qualify for the infrastructure fund, as well there is an interest in the security applications. So those two things are recent developments that are quite encouraging,” said Bernard Courtois, Ottawa-based executive counsel for Bell Canada and ITAC committee chair. “Until fairly recently it wasn’t clear that any part of the infrastructure fund was allowed for anything but 19th century infrastructure.”

The network would deliver high bandwidth capability to border stations providing reliable capacity to process large volumes of information at all crossings. Currently, approximately 15 border stations have high bandwidth capability, according to Courtois.

The construction of the network should take only a matter of months, he stated. But to realize its full benefits, a decision by the federal government will need to be made quickly so the project can be tendered out, Courtois added.

Since Sept. 11, a strong emphasis has been placed on beefing up security with systems like biometrics, and pre-screening by customs officials to ensure quicker border crossings for goods and people. Both of these systems are information-intensive and would require a broadband network.

The proposed fibre-optic network would be available to the busy border crossings, as well as the secondary stations, mainly located in rural areas. The network could also be extended to shipping ports and airports.

The approximate cost would be $164 million to link stations that do not currently have high-capacity connectivity.

The ITAC proposal could also assist the federal government with its initiative to deliver broadband services to rural communities by allowing communities adjacent to secondary border stations to become connected more quickly, the organization said in a statement.