Diminished sea ice is easing an effort to lay Arctic broadband cable

An Anchorage-based company is taking advantage of the open ocean off the coast of Alaska to lay a 1,200-mile undersea fiber-optic cable that'll provide faster and more reliable broadband internet connections to northern Alaska and the Interior.

"There is less ice off the coast of Alaska," said Kristina Woolston, a spokeswoman for Quintillion Networks, "and so deploying the cable at a submarine level is possible now, where it may not have been five years ago."

Quintillion is overseeing development of the fiber-optic system that company officials say will improve connectivity throughout the Interior and bring broadband to Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright and Barrow by next summer.

"There will be true broadband in these communities for the first time," Woolston said in an interview last week after talking about the project to about 100 people at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Conference Center.

Woolston says within a few years Quintillion will connect its system to a 10,000-mile cable that'll run from Japan to Great Britain. She says Quintillion decided to begin the project in the middle, off Alaska, because the Northwest Passage, the waterway along Canada's northwest coast, remains clogged with ice.

"The Northwest Passage, or the route that would extend from Prudhoe Bay over to Europe, has seen more ice this year than the last couple of years," she said.

That's one of several changes in the project since New York-based equity firm Cooper Investment Partners bought out the Toronto-based company, Arctic Fibre, that originally proposed the project and that had considered beginning it in Canada. Woolston says Cooper assigned the tasks of building, owning and operating the system to Quintillion.

"Now, it's an Alaska-based company that is building the system," she said.

Woolston says Quintillion plans to initially deliver broadband capacity from the south, through another undersea fiber-optic cable extending from the Pacific Northwest to Anchorage. From there, the company will use existing fiber-optic lines that follow the highway system to Prudhoe Bay.

She says within a few years Quintillion plans to extend the cable westward from Nome to Japan, then eastward from Prudhoe Bay to the U.K. And then provide internet connectivity using its new subsea cable to the north.

This story was first published by KUAC public media and republished here with permission.