Anchorage Firm Outlines Plans to Bring Broadband to Five Alaska Communities

May 2, 2016

Anchorage-based Quintillion Networks has resumed work on a major fiber-optic cable project that’ll improve broadband internet service in five communities in northern Alaska. Quintillion hopes to link the Alaska cable to a larger system that eventually will run from Japan to Europe.

Quintillion spokeswoman Kristina Woolston says crews are again at work, on land and sea, on the Alaska portion of a 10,000-mile fiber-optic cable system that the company says will eventually connect Tokyo and London.

Quintillion hopes to complete work on the first phase of its 10,000-mile fiber-optic cable project next year, which would provide much greater broadband capacity to five Alaska communities.
Credit Quintillion Networks

“It’s an incredible project,” she said. “It’s one-of-a-kind, globally.”

Woolston says crews are picking up where they left off last summer on upgrading a fiber-optic line running from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, along the Dalton Highway. She says in June, ships will begin laying some 1,200 miles of cable off Alaska’s northern and northwestern coasts.

“Our first ship is in the waters right now,” she said, “and so we’ve got an awful lot to look forward to this summer.”

Woolston told more than a hundred people in a talk at the Westmark Hotel Thursday that excavation work is also under way in Nome in preparation for laying cable there.

Quintillion spokeswoman Kristina Woolston: broadband "will stimulate economic growth.”

“We are already working in Nome,” she said. “We have about 1,500 feet of conduit that we’re laying in town.”

Nome will be at the end of the line for the Alaska portion of the fiber-optic cable, which Woolston says will greatly improve broadband capacity there and in Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Barrow. Those communities now get costly and undependable internet service, mainly through satellite-based systems.

“We do not have broadband in our rural communities,” she said. “The baseline broadband is about 25 megabits per second. In a lot of our communities, it’s about 6 megabits per second.”

The cable will provide much faster broadband connections that’ve been badly needed in many of the state’s rural and remote areas. Woolston says the faster connection will enable improvements in emergency services, telemedicine, education and economic development, to name a few.

“It’ll stimulate economic growth,” she said. “We know that infrastructure is one of the critical tools for an economy, whether it be energy or telecommunications.”

Woolston says two Alaska Native firms, ASRC and Calista Corp., have invested in the project. She when it’s done it’ll provide broadband capability that local internet service providers will then market to the communities they serve.

“We are a wholesale provider," she said, "so we build the system and telecommunications companies buy wholesale capacity from us.”

Woolston says because of proprietary concerns Quintillion won’t release estimates on the cost of the projects. Media accounts have set the cost of the Alaska portion at about $250 million. Accounts of the larger project, originally proposed by Toronto-based Arctic Fibre, set the estimates at between $600 million and $700 million.

Woolston says New York-based equity firm Cooper Investment Partners took over the project last year and appointed Quintilllion to oversee the Alaska portion.

She says the companies have not yet worked out the schedule of work on phase 2 of the project – which would extend the cable from Nome to Japan; nor Phase 3, which would take the cable from Prudhoe Bay eastward through the Northwest Passage and on to the U.K.

Editor's note: Woolston contacted KUAC on Monday to clarify that the first ship that will be involved in laying the subsea cable off Alaska is not yet in Arctic waters.