The importance of a seamless and fast communication line today is demonstrated by the numerous construction and interconnection projects currently underway in the Arctic. One of these is the “Arctic Connect” project by Finnish network equipment supplier Cinia and U.S.-based Far North Digital LLC. This envisages the laying of an undersea fiber optic cable from Finland via Greenland and the Northwest Passage to Alaska and Japan. But the Northwest Passage is currently blocked, not only because of ice, but also because the Canadian government is skeptical and demands more information from the Americans.
Too little information about the possible impact of a survey and the entire project on the sensitive marine environment of the Northwest Passage, too little inclusion of Inuit communities along the approximately 900-kilometer route and possible consequences for them are two of the concerns that have been addressed by various Canadian government agencies to Far North Digital LLC and its Canadian offshoot True North Global Networks LP. The Canadian government is now giving the U.S. company two weeks to respond to the concerns and present a plan on how it will address the concerns and objections.
Among the agencies that have expressed concerns about the project and the U.S. firm’s survey is the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. It is a liaison of sorts between the government and Inuit in Nunavut and explains that the company needs to consult with communities in the Northwest Passage to evaluate potential impacts on lifestyles especially fishing and hunting. Communities include Pond Inlet at the entrance to the Northwest Passage, as well as Resolute and Arctic Bay. According to the company at the presentation of the project in December 2021, consultations with communities located along the cable are planned and they intend to offer a connection to the fiber network. This would be a planned improvement to community communications, which rely primarily on satellite links and older cables that are slowly expiring. In addition, the link would be an alternative to Starlink, which currently provides hi-speed satellite connectivity to communities in Nunavut.
Other agency concerns also include the impact on the abundant Arctic wildlife in the Northwest Passage, from the important zooplankton to large animals such as polar bears, seals, belugas and muskoxen on land. In particular, the feasibility study planned by Far North Digital and True North Global is causing headaches for conservation and park agencies like Parks Canada. They are concerned that important protected areas on the route will be negatively impacted by the work, as the work will include seabed quality checks and onshore work. They also fear for the fishing and hunting grounds of the local population and demand closer cooperation with the local affected communities there as well. And the authorities also want to see in the statement what the company plans to do about ice conditions. For Far North Digital, the concerns are understandable. At the same time, however, the company made it known a year ago that they would seek such aspects, especially cooperation in evaluating possible effects with local communities. The plan was for the US$1.5 billion project to be completed by the end of 2025. Whether Far North Digital and Cinia will be able to meet this schedule, given the obstacles that still need to be overcome, remains to be seen.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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