Cable ship finishes undersea fiber optic link to Southeast’s Prince of Wales Island

a cable ship
The ship IT Intrepid, which laid the SEALink cable, is seen through trees from Coffman Cove. (Photo courtesy of AP&T)

Prince of Wales Island now has its first direct fiber optic connection with the North American mainland. Alaska Power and Telephone announced this month it had completed the undersea cable known as SEALink about two years ahead of schedule. It runs from the Prince of Wales Island community of Coffman Cove to Juneau with a short land-based stretch near Petersburg. 

Plans for the 214-mile cable were unveiled in 2020 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $21.5 million in funding for the project as part of its ReConnect program. AP&T chipped in $7 million of its own money for the cable.

AP&T Vice President Jason Custer says it’s a step towards modernizing internet infrastructure on the remote island. SEALink will eventually replace a network of mountaintop microwave towers that currently serve as the telecom company’s backbone.

“The project will dramatically increase people’s internet speeds, reliability and also will improve pricing significantly to bring folks up to a standard that’s similar to what they would expect in a larger city like Seattle or Anchorage,” Custer said in a phone interview Monday.

Now that the undersea cable is complete, technicians are slated to begin installing fiber optic service to homes in Coffman Cove and Kasaan. Custer says that’ll start next year — and he says residents should get in touch with the company’s customer service desk to make sure they’re on the list for installation.

In its grant application, AP&T said its plans would start with 10-megabit-per-second (Mbps) download speeds for $49.95 a month — a big upgrade from the 1-Mbps service currently available in Kasaan. Coffman Cove currently has no broadband service. A 25-Mbps connection — which Custer says is enough to handle multiple simultaneous videoconferences and distance learning — would be $79.95.

The fastest plans would be $229.95 per month and provide 250-Mbps downloads.

The fiber network is expected to continue to expand across Prince of Wales Island in the coming years. AP&T was awarded another nearly $30 million from the ReConnect program in July to expand the island’s fiber optic network to Craig, Klawock and Hollis. Connecting those communities is expected to take another three years once construction gets underway in 2024. And Custer says they’re looking to expand further.

“Just a couple of days ago, we applied for additional funds to build fiber to the home in Hydaburg, Whale Pass and also Thorne Bay, including the South Side subdivision, which is a hard place to reach,” Custer said. “We’re hopeful — we want to get all of the communities on Prince of Wales up to the same very high standard.”

AP&T says it’s expecting to hear back from USDA early next year on the new grant.

Elsewhere in the region, Custer says AP&T is leveraging grant funding to expand fiber service to outlying communities in Upper Lynn Canal, including Klukwan and Dyea. Construction there could start as early as next year, and the project is expected to be completed by 2028.

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