Ship begins laying cable that will bring high-speed internet to the Aleutians

A ship in the water
The C/S IT Intrepid begins deploying subsea fiber in Unalaska. (Laurelin Kruse/KUCB)

Work has started to lay 800 miles of subsea fiber-optic cable that project engineers say will bring high-speed internet to Unalaska and Akutan by the end of the year.

“What you will get in Unalaska is what you would get here in Anchorage,” said GCI Rural Affairs Director Jen Nelson. “It’s going to open up so many capabilities, whether it be education, commerce, or entertainment.”

GCI began surveying for the cable network — called the AU Aleutians Fiber Project — in 2017. Last week, the ship responsible for laying the cable left Unalaska for Kodiak.

Geoff Dunlop is the captain of the C/S IT Intrepid, the 377-foot ship that’s laying the cable.

“Planning a cable route is much like planning a railroad, or a goat trail,” he said. “You take the path of least risk and least resistance. Cables don’t like going over things. They want to follow a contour.”

To find the best possible route, engineers surveyed the geology and marine habitat of the ocean floor. They also met with local fishermen to make sure the cable isn’t in a position where it could get dug up by trawlers.

Once the route was set, the cable had to be specifically engineered to fit the conditions of where it will sit on the ocean floor.

The IT Intrepid typically lays cable at speeds from one to two-and-a-half miles per hour.

While en route to Larsen Bay on Kodiak, the ship will lay cable to Akutan, Sand Point, King Cove and Chignik Bay. It’s expected to complete its work by early fall.

Dunlop said bringing internet to these remote communities is part of a bigger picture — creating infrastructure for the globe.

“The reality is that there’s literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of kilometers of cable on the bottom laid by people like ourselves,” said Dunlop. “It’s not just a local event where small islands are being interconnected. It’s the global network.”

If all goes according to plan, Unalaska and Akutan will have high-speed internet by the end of this year. Service to Sand Point and King Cove will follow by the end of 2023, and Chignik Bay and Larsen Bay in late 2024.

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