Arctic Fibre Reveals Alaska Broadband Plans

In another sign of how climate change is transforming the Arctic, a Toronto-based company is planning to lay a fiber-optic cable through Canada’s Northwest Passage.

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The aim is to build a better broadband link between London and Tokyo, but the company says it will also deliver high-speed internet to the Arctic Slope and Western Alaska.

Arctic Fibre says it’s investing more than $600 million in the main line. It will run nearly 10,000 miles, with smaller branches shooting off to communities on Alaska’s coast.

Its Alaska partner is Quintillion Networks. CEO Elizabeth Pierce says the project will bring cheaper, faster internet to places that now connect to the web by satellite or microwave.

“So the spurs into Alaska will go into Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, Nome, and we’re working on the business case to build into Unalaska,” Pierce said.

Arctic Fibre hopes to finish its marine survey to confirm the exact route next summer. The company says it has most of its financing and some of its permits already in hand. Pierce says the one- or two- inch cable is expected to be placed in 2015.

“In shallow areas, like around the coast of Alaska, the cable will be trenched into or buried into the sea floor, and in the ocean depths it will just lie on the ocean floor,” Pierce said.

Pierce says they’re talking to the Pentagon about serving the radar station at Shemya, which is part of the missile defense network, and they hope the cable will also support the Pentagon’s new Arctic strategy in the years ahead.

It’s the kind of project that was unthinkable a generation ago, Pierce says.

“We’re planning to build through areas that are now ice free for at least part of the season that in past years the ice never went out, or went out of any significance, so definitely climate change and the recession of ice in the north has made this project possible,” Pierce said.

A planned fiber optic line would also run between Prudhoe and Fairbanks, which Pierce says would enhance service for the Railbelt by providing an alternate data route.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz