New high speed internet infrastructure goes online in Arctic Alaska

Published: May. 4, 2017 at 4:45 PM AKDT
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New high speed internet infrastructure is online in the Arctic, with an Anchorage-based telecommunications company poised to connect a handful of coastal villages to fiber optic cables by the end of the year.

A number of politicians, entrepreneurs and native corporation leaders celebrated the connection to Prudhoe Bay coming online in April, as Quintillion finished construction of an underground cable from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.

“This is going to be a real game changer, for business, for health, telemedicine, you name it,” said Arctic Slope Regional Corporation chairman Crawford Patkotak.

A subsea cable system, buried underground beneath the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the summer of 2016, is currently in “testing mode.” Ports in Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Utqiagvik are reportedly passing signal through the recently installed fiber optic cable, but the areas will not be connected to the global grid until construction is finished on the final section between Utqiagvik and Prudhoe Bay.

Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce expects that section to be completed and online by Dec. 1 of this year.

“This will introduce more options, more technology and more competition into the markets, and it will be excellent to businesses and consumers,” said Pierce.

Among those hailing Quintillion’s privately funded endeavor were Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young and Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott.

“It's also so exciting to see Alaska companies investing in this kind of project, because you see the ripple effect of more and more jobs for all of us here,” said Sen. Sullivan.

A representative from the University of Alaska system in attendance said UA officials have been watching the development of the cable closely and are excited to benefit from the possibility of faster internet options at their Arctic research stations and satellite campuses.

“What this brings to us is not only competition that may lower prices, but will also bring increased capacity for video distance delivery [and] for high capacity data transfers between our research stations and main universities,” said UA chief IT officer Karl Kowalski.

A CEO to a satellite data transfer business also attended the Prudhoe Bay launch, discussing plans to expand his business’ international operations into the northern reaches of Alaska.

“Other countries have had a monopoly on Arctic data receiving from satellites. Norway, Canada have had their own stations, but for the United States to have a primary location at this latitude is something very exciting,” said Christopher Richins with RBC Signals.

The scope of Quintillion’s project is expected to reach far past Alaska, with company officials already looking to complete phase two and three of the subsea cable, ultimately building the first fiber optic cable system connecting North America, Asia and Europe through the Northwest Passage.