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Alaska telecom starts construction on terrestrial fiber link to Lower 48

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: May 1, 2019
  • Published May 1, 2019

A subsidiary of Palmer-based telecom company Matanuska Telephone Association has started construction on a first-in-the-state fiber optic cable project that will generally run along the Alaska Highway, connecting Alaska to the Lower 48.

It’s the first all-terrestrial — overland — fiber network connecting Alaska to the contiguous 48 states, MTA Fiber Holdings announced Wednesday. There are already submarine fiber optic cables making that connection.

The fiber will allow MTA to have its own link to the Lower 48, instead of paying other carriers such as GCI and Alaska Communications to facilitate high-speed data access for MTA members, as it currently does. The project will allow the cooperative to increase its capacity for data services in years to come, said CEO Michael Burke.

“The big growth we’re trying to project for here is the growth in internet demand,” he said in a phone interview. Burke and Gov. Mike Dunleavy were scheduled to speak at a press conference about the project Wednesday morning.

Construction started Monday near North Pole and is expected to be finished by mid-2020, the company said.

The project involves installing about 280 miles of fiber from the North Pole area to the Canadian border, then about 200 miles from the border to Haines Junction. Canadian providers already have fiber optic cables deployed from Seattle to Haines Junction.

MTA serves more than 30,000 members over a 10,000-square-mile area that stretches from the Eagle River area up to Healy. Members won’t see increased rates, Burke said.

The project is privately financed, Burke said, and he would not disclose the cost.

The fiber will be buried about 3 1/2 feet underground. Contractor Alaska Directional will do the work on the U.S. side, and another contractor will do the work on the Canadian side.

MTA does not plan to become a provider along the entirety of the fiber route, but other carriers will be able to use the network for data.