Business/Economy

Anchorage telecom startup, with former mayor Berkowitz at the helm, plans trans-Arctic cable

A Finnish company, in cooperation with an Anchorage-based telecommunications startup, has announced plans to lay an 8,700-mile fiber-optic cable between Europe and Japan through the Arctic Ocean and Bering Strait by 2025.

Finland-based networking company Cinia said last week it had reached an agreement with Far North Digital, a firm whose owners include former Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, the company’s president.

“This is my main focus,” said Berkowitz, who has kept a low profile in the year since he resigned from his position as mayor after admitting that he had an “inappropriate messaging relationship” with a TV reporter.

Before becoming mayor, Berkowitz had experience in telecommunications work, including with the firm that laid a fiber-optic cable system between Prudhoe Bay and Fairbanks. Several of his prior business partners are involved with Far North Digital, including Walt Ebell, former head of Old Harbor Native Corp. and the firm that laid the undersea cable between the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak.

Several major fiber-optic cable projects have been proposed in the Arctic Ocean, but no undersea cable has crossed it yet. Fiber-optic cables carry most of the world’s internet traffic, phone calls and video; they have much greater capacity than satellite links or other ways of transmitting data.

The Arctic route offers the same advantages for telecommunications traffic as air traffic: It covers a shorter distance between the cities of Europe and eastern Asia.

“When you fly from London to Japan, you don’t want to go to New York to San Francisco to Honolulu to Tokyo — you want to go over the pole. And that’s what we bring,” Berkowitz said.

In addition to offering lower latency, the cable would provide greater capacity for growing global internet traffic.

Alcatel, which laid Quintillion Networks’ subsea cable off the North Slope, has been hired as the lead engineering, procurement and construction partner.

The new cable would cost about $1.15 billion, according to estimates published by Cinia.

Ik Icard, chief strategy officer for Far North Digital, said the companies are aiming to secure full financing by the first quarter of 2022.

No permit requests have yet been filed with the Federal Communications Commission or the state of Alaska. Some permitting and construction work has taken place in Ireland, one of the locations where the cable will come ashore.

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