Arctic communities prepare for new high speed fiber optic internet

Published: Jun. 13, 2016 at 1:17 PM AKDT
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Arctic communities are preparing for a flood of new technological potential as fiber optic internet connectivity moves closer to reality.

Six communities are positioned to benefit from a high-speed internet project expected to break ground this summer. Anchorage based company Quintillion says workers will begin laying cable from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, wrapping around the arctic coast to Nome.

Quintillion will be building connection points for telecommunication companies to build-out “world class” speed internet to communities of Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue and Nome.

Chief of staff of the Northwest Arctic Borough Eugene Smith said physical fiber optic wires connecting them to the Lower 48 will give both residents and businesses the opportunity to jump from “borderline dial-up” satellite internet speeds used today, to gigabit internet speeds found in many major US cities.

“The hourglass ways are coming to an end,” said Smith. “Higher speeds and the ability to communicate is just going to be a major success story for everyone.”

The goal is to be connected in the six villages by mid-2017.

The project is being called the “Quintillion Sub-Sea Cable System.” Phase one deals with connecting northern Alaska to the rest of the country. Phase two and phase three hope to connect Japan and London to the fiber optic network by way of 15,000 km of wire through the arctic.

Quintillion spokesperson Tim Woolston said the project is completely funded by private investors from New York to the North Slope. The cost to build the line has not been disclosed by the company.

Woolston said arctic communities like Kotzebue should expect “significant improvements to health, education and economic development” while also expecting substantially lower internet bills for residents.

“I've always pushed the quality of healthcare through projects like telemedicine that are very high bandwidth,” said Smith, speaking on the potential for the local hospital to better communicate with doctors across the globe.

Vice Mayor of Kotzebue Matt Tekker said he believes Kotzebue can become a more connected hub of the arctic with the opportunity to drive in the fast lane of the internet’s information superhighway.

“It also hopefully lowers the cost of internet… when competition comes in,” said Tekker. “Anything that can help lower the cost of living for us is a big win-win.”

While the benefits of competition are positive, Tekker said he also wants to make sure the community doesn’t lose its village roots.

“We're living in two worlds here,” said Tekker. “Keeping the cultural past and working with new advancements and technology.”

Telecommunication companies like Alaska Communication and GCI have both expressed interest in further investing in community infrastructure to build out the fiber optic network within communities.

“As Quintillion builds out, we plan to connect this fiber to the rest of its network, and provide more of Alaska with secure, reliable connectivity. We look forward to further opportunities with Quintillion, which will lead to faster and more affordable broadband in rural Alaska,” Alaska Communications released in a statement.