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Overland Fiber-Optic Cable Joins Alaska to the Lower 48

The newly completed portion of the Matanuska Telephone Association network means the state is no longer solely dependent upon a series of subsea cables for high-speed Internet and telephone service.

by James Brooks, Alaska Dispatch News / May 27, 2020
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(TNS) — A subsidiary of Matanuska Telephone Association has finished construction of the first overland fiber-optic cable connecting Alaska to the outside, the association said Tuesday.

“We have completed this project and the network is active and carrying traffic,” MTA CEO Michael Burke said in a prerecorded video announcement played during an event broadcast over the Internet from the company’s Palmer headquarters.

Having the cable means Alaska is no longer solely dependent upon a series of subsea cables for high-speed Internet and telephone service. Satellite and microwave links also connect Alaska to the outside world, but are more limited than fiber-optic cables.

Alaska’s subsea cables are vulnerable to earthquakes, and an overland connection offers a “geographically diverse route” for Internet traffic, Burke said.

Burke said the overland cable’s completion also means MTA no longer needs to pay “millions of dollars” per year to lease capacity in those undersea cables, which are predominantly owned by GCI and Alaska Communications.

Francis LaChapelle, MTA’s vice president of wholesale and carrier relations, said the company expects to sell access to the cable to other telecommunications companies and doesn’t plan to offer Internet service itself to customers along the Alaska Highway. He said the company is also getting interest from the federal government.

Burke declined to reveal the cost of the new cable, citing confidentiality agreements with the company’s Canadian partners.

The 480-mile link begins at North Pole near Fairbanks and ends at Haines Junction, Yukon, where it connects to cables installed by Northwestel, the dominant telecom in northern Canada. Northwestel’s cables connect to the rest of North America.

Construction of the new link started in April 2019 with Alaska Directional as the lead contractor, and finished on schedule. MTA was in charge of the 288 miles of fiber construction on the American side of the border, and Northwestel was in charge of the 200 miles on the Canadian side.

Getting federal permits needed to cross the border took more than a year before that, said Eric Anderson, the company’s vice president of engineering. He credited U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, for helping the company with that permitting.

©2020 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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