As frustration grows, Quintillion extends timeline for restoring Western Alaska internet service

a rocky beach
Nome’s port. (Emily Schwing)

Repairs to a damaged fiber optic cable affecting internet and cellular services to much of Western Alaska will now take longer than initially anticipated, according to Alaska-based communications company Quintillion.

The original timeline of six to eight weeks for restoring services is now nine to 11 weeks. Quintillion said repairs to the cable can’t happen until sea ice opens up enough for a repair vessel to get through.

The company plans to begin repair operations Aug. 9-22, if the area is 90% free of ice. In a statement published July 14, Quintillion said a repair vessel would be in the North Slope community of Wainwright by the middle of August on standby for when the ice opened up.

Michael McHale is the president of Quintillion.

“The ice is really on the critical path,” he said. “It looks like right now that the ice is cooperating with us, and moving as expected, in some cases, even faster than expected. As soon as we can access the area, we’ll go in and start to affect the repair.”

McHale said ice forecasts are moving out quicker than expected and the vessel will be mobilized over the weekend and will then go north. He said ice will likely open the first and second weeks of August, with repairs expected to take up to a week.

In early June, the company announced the sub-sea outage was a result of an ice scouring event, located just over 34 miles north of Oliktok Point. McHale said that the cable break was the first outage since the subsea cable went live in December 2017, and that the company is working to improve how the cable is buried.

“We’ll take some risk mitigation steps to make it even more durable than it was. We buried it below the seabed floor, we will do that, again, we may use concrete to cover the trails,” he said.

McHale said Quintillion is looking at securing a bypass route that would create a ring between Fairbanks and Homer to prevent another outage from happening in the future. In June, the company received a nearly $90 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration toward expanding the subsea broadband project. McHale said they started communication right after the break to contact their customers directly. The company has been posting updates on several of their social media outlets, although many affected by the break are having trouble viewing the online updates.

“I don’t want to put a date out there that disappoints at this point because, again, the ice cover is really the gating item,” said McHale. “If we had visibility at this point, we’d be in the area making the repair right now, but you know, it’s important to get the services back up and running.”

Nome Mayor John Handeland said Quintillion has kept him informed, when there are updates.

“I’m not expecting a regular report from them. As to their process, I know things won’t happen till August. Should they have something new and exciting, I know they’ll call me, or I can pick up the phone and call them,” he said.

Frustration is growing as businesses and individuals are approaching seven weeks without reliable internet services. Some residents have opted to order Starlink internet, a satellite internet provider, while others have adjusted to the changes. Communication remains minimally affected for those with landlines.

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