Planned submarine cable would increase internet speeds for Prince of Wales communities

An aerial view of Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy of KRBD)

New fiber optic cable is planned to connect communities on Prince of Wales Island to the mainland to increase internet speeds for homes, businesses and schools. A survey vessel will soon begin mapping the seabed to determine the best route for the 214-mile submarine connection to improve online access for the island.

Jason Custer of Alaska Power & Telephone said the federally funded project would dramatically improve internet access in the island towns of Kasaan and Coffman Cove, bringing the maximum available speed to at least 100 megabits per second, at the both for downloads and downloads. Both of these communities currently rely on a combination of wireless and satellite internet.

“I would say the difference is like going between mountain biking on a trail through the forest and driving on a highway full of data in a Lamborghini.” Custer said. “It’s a huge difference in what’s possible.

AP&T said in a statement it is also on track to build a terrestrial fiber optic network connecting homes and businesses in these communities on Prince of Wales Island by 2022.

“When the cable is finished in 2023, that will give us the capacity and the ability to provide very high speed internet to Coffman Cove and Kasaan. And from there we would also look to improve service in other communities in Prince of Wales, ”Custer said.

This timeline is approximately two years earlier than the company’s initial projections. Last October, he mentionned the cable would be operational by 2025. Custer said the submarine cable would complement the existing microwave network that brings internet service to the island.

But the company warns bureaucracy could slow the project down.

“The timing will ultimately depend on the timing of the licensing and environmental approval processes managed by the USDA,” the AP&T statement read.

A map showing the planned 214 mile submarine fiber optic cable route. (AP&T Chart)

The project is supported by a $ 21.5 million U.S. Federal Department of Agriculture rural broadband grant announced last October under the Trump administration. AP&T said at the time that it was committing $ 7 million of its own money to the project, which it dubbed “SEALink”.

Federal money, which is part of the ReConnect Program, was approved by Congress in 2018. The company’s focus on Coffman Cove and Kasaan is a result of federal grant requirements – federal funds are aimed specifically at improving access in these two communities.

Custer says improving internet access for communities on Prince of Wales Island is a step towards improving economic opportunities.

“Prince of Wales Island has been in the throes of very big changes, trying to move from an economy and communities based on the timber industry and resource development to trying to find something else. . And with this project, Prince of Wales will be in a better position than ever to truly diversify its economy and be sustainable for the long term, ”said Custer.

Tribal leaders, including the chiefs of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the organized village of Kasaan, said the project will help connect the island’s residents with each other and with the rest of the world.

“Tlingit & Haida is delighted to support the SEALink fiber optic project, as it will help bridge the digital divide that so many rural Alaska dwellers know well. For the tribes, broadband connectivity for our citizens is truly the last way to express our sovereignty and to place us at the forefront of the digital age, ”said Central Council Chairman Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson in the company press release.

The Alaska Congressional delegation praised the project, with US Senator Lisa Murkowski saying broadband is “essential for connecting communities” to things like telemedicine and distance learning in a statement included in the press release.

The cable from Juneau to Coffman Cove would run through Petersburg, but Custer said improving service to Mitkof Island “is not within the scope of the project.”

The marine survey is expected to be completed in August.

The submarine cable would add to a growing number of Internet upgrades in Alaska. For example, the municipal broadband provider in Ketchikan has commissioned its own fiber-optic cable connecting the community to Prince Rupert and the wider North American network. Last year.

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