Fiber optic line could connect parts of Alaska, bring Internet to villages

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Native corporations and a multinational company plan to build a fiber optic cable from Tokyo to London through the Arctic Ocean that promises to bring high-speed Internet to remote villages.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that laying 10,000 miles of undersea cable would cost about $1 billion.

The cable would have two landing points in Alaska, Dutch Harbor and Prudhoe Bay.

The chief executive of one of the companies involved in the project, Walt Ebell of Kodiak Kenai Cable Company, said it has become possible because of the shrinking polar ice cap.

The company said the Alaska portion could provide high-speed, reliable Internet to Bethel, Kotzebue, Nome and other communities. In the future, the network could be expanded to bring broadband Internet to 142 villages.

For now, most rural Alaska communities rely on satellite-based Internet, which is expensive and sometimes sluggish.

"It's really, really slow," said Denise Michels, the mayor of Nome, one of 14 rural communities that have written letters in favor of the Kodiak Kenai Cable project.

She said high-speed Internet could create a lot of economic opportunities in her town and improve communication between local doctors and national medical experts.

"It would be so great to be connected like the rest of the U.S.," she said.

Alex Hills, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and consultant who has worked on Alaska telecommunications issues for decades calls it a "really ambitious project."

"If it happens, it can only help Alaska," he said.

Ebell and others are presenting their project Sunday at the Pacific Telecommunications Council 2010 conference in Honolulu.

Roughly 100 people are already working on the project, a joint venture composed of KKC and a telecom subsidiary of Khanjee Holdings Inc., a multinational energy and infrastructure development firm with offices in Texas, Virginia, London, Qatar and Dubai.

KKC is owned by mostly by Old Harbor Native Corp., with Ouzinkie Native Corp. as a minority investor. They are Kodiak-area village corporations. KKC brings some telecom experience to the table: The company has laid fiber-optic cable between Kodiak, Kenai, Homer, Seward and Anchorage.

Together, KKC and Khanjee recently created the Arctic Cable Co., which would finance, design and build the cable. If Arctic Cable can line up customers and financing, construction would start next year and be done in 2013, Ebell said.

He acknowledged that this would be a huge undertaking for Old Harbor, of which he is also chief executive. Besides the cables linking Kodiak to the mainland, the company owns commercial real estate in Anchorage and hotels at Denali National Park, plus it does federal contracting. Annual company revenue is about $80 million, he said.

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