Residents of several North Slope and Northwest Alaska communities have been experiencing internet and cell service interruptions this week caused by a cut to the subsea fiber optic network. The cut might take up to two months to repair, and telecommunications service providers are looking for short-term solutions to bring service back online.
Quintillion, which provides broadband connectivity in Arctic Alaska, on Sunday experienced a subsea fiber cut about 34 miles north of Oliktok Point, offshore from Utqiagvik, Quintillion President Mac McHale said. The cut caused a systemwide outage, affecting Utqiagvik, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, Nome and Atqasuk, McHale said.
“All of our broadband services are impacted by this,” McHale said. “And they’re not compromised — they’re completely out.”
While the company was still confirming the cause of the breakage on Monday, heavy ice movement most likely cut the fiber cable, McHale said. The breakage is significant, given the fact that the cable is buried beneath the ocean floor, below 90 feet of water, McHale said.
To fix the cut, repair crews need to wait until the ice breaks up around Oliktok Point, which is expected to happen at the end of June or early July, McHale said.
“We’ll be on-site at that point in time,” he said. “We’re looking at probably six to eight weeks.”
As of Monday, the company was working to isolate the repairs, assess the damage and find the right tools to conduct the repairs, McHale said. They were also looking for backup solutions in the meantime.
Quintillion’s customers include telecom companies across Northwest Alaska and the North Slope, such as Alaska Communications, GCI, OTZ Telecommunications and Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative.
The North Slope communities served by the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative were experiencing various levels of outages Monday, said Rebecca Sparks, ASTAC external relations manager.
“We have four communities with varied outages. They vary from community to community, but overall we have long-distance cellular and internet outages taking place,” she said. “They can call within their community.”
In several North Slope villages, not including Utqiagvik, backup 911 services were also affected by the outages, Sparks said.
Utqiagvik resident Mary Lum Patkotak said that she had no internet at work and couldn’t make cellphone calls.
“It’s extremely frustrating not to be able to contact my children and nieces,” she said. “We are so used to being connected.”
In the Northwest Arctic Borough, Kotzebue residents were experiencing internet outages Monday, said Kelly Williams, CEO at OTZ Telecommunications. A backup facility kept voice and emergency services working.
“A few businesses are closed due to no internet,” Bruce Nelson of Kotzebue said. “NAPA is cash only.”
The other 10 village communities served by OTZ Telecommunications are fed off a satellite system and don’t rely on the subsea fiber optic network, Williams said.
The company was also working on alternative satellite technologies to get internet services up by the end of this week or early next week, Williams said.
Some GCI customers in rural Alaska — particularly those in Utqiagvik, Nome, Kotzebue, Wainwright and Point Hope — also experienced slower internet and wireless service due to a network outage, GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside said in a statement. Handyside said the company redistributed some of the services to other networks to address the issue.
“Shortly after the break was reported, GCI began to migrate some impacted services to GCI’s satellite network,” Handyside said. “This transition was completed quickly.”