5.9 earthquake causes telecom outage in Southeast Alaska

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Telecommunications services in Southeast Alaska were snarled Friday after a 5.9-magnitude earthquake apparently cut a crucial seabed data cable.

"The earthquake damaged our submarine fiber-optic cable and so we're working on repairing it right now," said Hannah Blankenship, spokesperson for Alaska Communications Systems Group. 

But ACS was unable to provide much additional information about how widespread the outages were or how many customers were affected. ACS provides both wireless and Internet service.

The severed cable was the company's primary link to Juneau, connecting offshore to the company’s main fiber-optic line between Alaska and the Lower 48, she said.

Blankenship said she did not know how many customers were affected but expected it was the majority of its Southeast customers. She declined to say how many customers ACS has in Southeast.

It was not clear late Friday when service would be restored.

"We will work with a vendor to dispatch a ship to the area and use equipment to retrieve (the cable) and bring it up to the surface," she said. Blankenship could provide no estimates for when that might begin.

"It will take time to mobilize -- it will depend," she said. "When we have a ship dispatched or going out there, we will give an update."

Other companies also use ACS' network and their customers were affected as well but Blankenship declined to say who they were or how widespread the outage was.

Alaska Power & Telephone, which provides phone service to small Southeast communities from Haines to Prince of Wales Island, told Juneau's KTOO radio that it is one of those companies. 

"All of the raw transport in our network is totally fine but we interconnect with and buy transport from ACS in Juneau and that's where the problem lies, outside of Juneau somewhere," Mike McGrath, the company's executive vice president, told the station.

Johnny Rice, a resident of Craig on Prince of Wales Island, said he's one of those customers, and the loss of Internet service is having an impact all over the island.

It's been especially hard on businesses that need to use the Internet to process credit and debit transactions, and some had to close Friday.

"There are vendors here who are out of business, they've shut the doors and sent everybody home because their point-of-sale system is down," he said.

A local grocery store was able to use a dial-up card reader but the process was slow and was delaying transactions, he said.