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ASRC buys stake in Arctic telecom company

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. announced this week its investment in a company trying to build an undersea fiber optic cable that could bring much speedier broadband service to a large swath of rural Alaska.

The Alaska fiber optic segment is part of a multi-million-dollar project led by Canadian company Arctic Fibre that would connect Asia and Europe through the Arctic.

ASRC's equity stake includes only the Alaska portion of the project, which has been estimated at $250 million and led by an Anchorage company called Quintillion Networks. Neither Quintillion nor ASRC would reveal the percentage of ASRC's minority interest.

"This investment allows the communities of the North Slope to get one step closer to fiber-optic broadband – a critical need when it comes to emergency response and public safety, economic development, as well as health care and education," said Rex A. Rock Sr., ASRC president and CEO.

The cost of the entire project has been widely reported as around $620 million, but Quintillion spokesman Tim Woolston said that number no longer stands.

"Numbers that have been used in the past are irrelevant today as decisions are made going forward," he wrote in an e-mail. "It is safe to say we are making a substantial investment in a project that will bring state of the art technology to improve the lives of people living in these Alaskan communities."

Quintillion, a privately held company, has various corporate entities and would not elaborate how they relate to each other and what portion of the project they're responsible for handling. ASRC made what it calls a "significant investment" in Quintillion Holdings. Nearly two years ago, another Alaska Native corporation, Calista, announced one of its subsidiaries, Futaris, would invest in another entity involved in the project, Quintillion Networks.

"Quintillion has a complex corporate structure," Woolston wrote. "Different investors, such as ASRC and Calista's subsidiary Futaris are invested in different aspects of the project. We treat the nature of those investments confidentially and we're not going to disclose details."

In early April, Quintillion Holdings formed a 50-50 venture with Alaska Communications to expand the state's fiber optic network and make it available to other telecom carriers. In May, the joint venture announced its acquisition of a fiber optics network from ConocoPhillips that serves the oil and gas sector on the North Slope.

In July, Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks announced it had entered into a contract with Quintillion Subsea Holdings, yet another of the project's companies, for the design and construction of a submarine cable system from Prudhoe Bay to Nome.

Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks said it had started surveying and installation activities for the system.

Quintillion Networks president and CEO Elizabeth Pierce was not available to comment on any additional progress the project may have made or how much financing had been secured. (Pierce worked at Alaska Communications for 11 years and was most recently the company's director of risk management.) Woolston said the financing is led by an investment group based in New York, but the name of the majority investor has not been made public. The project is being funded entirely by private sources, he said.

Quintillion Networks' business filings with the state of Alaska list Pierce as the largest equity owner, with a nearly 25 percent stake. The second-largest equity holder listed is chief operating officer Johannes Roeterink, with more than 22 percent ownership. Smaller investors include Denise Pfeffer, wife of Anchorage developer Mark Pfeffer, and several other people whose addresses range from Massachusetts to North Carolina to Quintillion's offices in Anchorage.

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