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Fiber-optic Cable Firm: Remote Alaskan Communities to Get Broadband Boost Dec. 1

Broadband coming to northern Alaska on Dec. 1st

A spokesman for the Anchorage-based company that’s building a fiber-optic cable system in northern Alaska announced this week when it’ll activate the system that will bring broadband to five northern coastal communities.

“The system will go live Dec. 1 in those northwest Alaska communities – all of them,” Quintillion spokesman Tim Woolston said Tuesday. He says that’s good news for the people who live in Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow.

Credit Quintillion
Quintillion will complete the task of laying its fiber-optic cable off Alaska's northern and northwest coast this summer. It's the first of a three-phase project that company officials hope will eventually extend from Nome westward to Asia and from Prudhoe Bay to Europe, via the Canadian Arctic.

“We’re excited to finish this project and provide high-speed broadband to these communities that have needed it for so long,” he said.

The cable will supplement and in some cases replace the slower satellite-based system that’s provided substandard Internet access in those and other remote Alaskan communities for years. Woolston says Quintillion laid cable last year, but had to bring its contractors’ ships back to finish the task.

“There’s a little bit more work that needs to be done starting this July, when the ice conditions are favorable, so we can get ships back on the water,” he said.

Credit Quintillion
Quintillion spokesman Tim Woolston, left, and CEO Elizabeth Pierce

Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce says the company had to bring in the ships to use a specially designed tool to bury the cable deeply into the sea floor, to protect it from hazards like a ship dragging its anchor and the more uniquely Arctic threat of being damaged by chunks of ice scraping along the ocean floor – a hazard known as “ice gouging.”

“There can be some very deep cuts into the sea floor by that ice activity – certainly severe enough … to damage the cable,” Pierce said during a talkshe gave last month at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She says the company designed a cable that would withstand Arctic conditions and a plow-like device that would bury it up to 12 feet below the ocean floor – deep enough to protect it from natural and human-caused hazards.

Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB
The Ile de Sein, one of the ships Quintillion contracted to lay the subsea cable off Alaska, docked at the Unalaska Marine Center last fall.

“That plows a trench in the sea floor and lays the cable in as it plows, so that it fills back in over the cable,” Pierce said.

She told those attending her keynote talk at UAF's Arctic Broadband Forum that the project is the first phase of what the company hopes will become a 10,000-mile system linking Asia and Europe via the Arctic.

“We decided to start the project with the hardest part first; we decided to start with Alaska.”

Pierce says Quintillion is working on plans for the next two phases of the project, which call for running a cable from Nome west to Asia and another running from Prudhoe Bay east through the Canadian Arctic and on to Europe.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.