Repairs to a damaged fiber optic cable affecting internet and cellular services to much of Western Alaska will now take longer than initially anticipated, according to Alaska-based communications company Quintillion. Repairs to the cable can’t happen until sea ice opens up enough for a repair vessel to get through.
Quintillion plans to begin repair operations August 9th-22nd, if the area is 90% free of ice. In a statement published July 14, Quintillion said a repair vessel would be in the North Slope community of Wainwright by the middle of August on standby for when the ice opened up. Michael McHale is the President of Quintillion.
“The ice is really on the critical path. It looks like right now that the ice is cooperating with us, and moving as expected, in some cases, even faster than expected. As soon as we can access the area, we’ll go in and start to affect the repair.”
McHale says ice forecasts are moving out quicker than expected and the vessel will be mobilized over the weekend and will then go north. He says ice will likely open the first and second weeks of August, with repairs expected to take up to a week.
In early June [June 13th] the company announced the sub-sea outage was a result of an ice scouring event, located just over 34 miles north of Oliktok Point. Quintillion initially estimated the break could result in a six to eight-week outage. It’s now been six weeks and repairs are still stalled by sea ice, leaving some customers questioning whether repairs will be made before freeze-up.
McHale says that the cable break in early June was the first outage since the subsea cable went live in December of 2017, and that the company is working to improve how the cable is buried.
“We’ll take some risk mitigation steps to make it even more durable than it was. We buried it below the seabed floor, we will do that, again, we may use concrete to cover the trails.”
McHale says Quintillion is looking at securing a bypass route that would create a ring between Fairbanks and Homer to prevent another outage from happening in the future. In June, the company received a nearly $90M grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration toward expanding the subsea broadband project. McHale says they started communication right after the break to contact their customers (in Nome, FastWyre and GCI) directly. The company has been posting updates on several of their social media outlets, although many affected by the break are having trouble viewing the online updates.
“I don’t want to put a date out there that disappoints at this point, because again, the ice cover is really the gating item. If we had visibility at this point, we’d be in the area making the repair right now, but you know, it’s important to get the services back up and running.”
Nome Mayor John Handeland says Quintillion has kept him informed, when there are updates.
“I’m not expecting a regular report from them. As to their process, I know things won’t happen til August. Should they have something new and exciting I know they’ll call me, or I can pick up the phone and call them.”
Frustration is growing as businesses and individuals are approaching 7 weeks without reliable internet services. Some residents have opted to order Starlink internet, a satellite internet provider while others have adjusted to the changes.
Businesses in Nome have been reluctant to speak to KNOM about their experience since the fiber optic break, as many have turned to Starlink. Communication remain minimally affected for those with landlines.
TelAlaska (Fastwyre Broadband), an Alaska- based communications company announced shortly after the cable break that their services were affected. Quintillion is a third-party network provider for Fastwyre Broadband. The company announced in a statement that customers would receive free internet during the impact period and receive prorated credit for June services based on the timing of the outage. A statement from FastWyre says customers have not been charged during the outage.
The outage is affecting the areas of Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, and Utqiagvik. The timeline of 6-8 weeks is now 9-11 weeks since the initial cable cut. While internet access remains a luxury during this time, it will reportedly improve within the following weeks.
Editor’s note: After the story was published, FastWyre submitted a statement saying that they are not charging Nome customers, they have not been charged since the outage, and to call 1-833-463-3278 for any billing errors.