Businesses, banks, hospitals, and homes in northern and northwestern Alaska are facing a challenging communication situation as a subsea fiber optic network operated by Quintillion was severed over the weekend.
The outage leaves communities such as Nome, Kotzebue, Utqiagvik, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, and Atqasuk without internet or cell phone service, affecting essential operations and creating significant challenges for residents.
Quintillion, the company responsible for the network, has been forthcoming about the cause of the break in service, attributing it to ice movement. Repairing the damage may take up to two months, the company said, leaving the affected communities in a prolonged state of disconnection.
The impact on local businesses has been particularly challenging. Without internet or cell phone service, they are struggling to carry out credit card transactions, make phone calls, and transfer data. In a bid to continue accepting credit cards, some businesses have resorted to flying in paper receipts that require old-style carbon imprinters, harking back to a time before the digital era.
However, potential solutions lie not beneath the sea but in the sky.
Pacific Dataport, an Alaska company, offers the OneWeb Leo satellite, which could provide a faster alternative for those seeking a temporary fix. Implementing this system could take a few days, offering hope for a more immediate restoration of connectivity. Furthermore, Pacific Dataport recently launched an Aurora GEO HTS satellite designed specifically for rural areas, which is set to become operational in early August.
The severity of the situation is evident from the fact that even the Barrow Sea Ice Cam, located in Utqiagvik, ceased transmitting images on June 11. The last available image displayed sea ice still clinging to the shore. Quintillion predicts that the ice near Oliktok Point may disappear by the end of June or early July, signaling when the company can begin the repair process.
The Quintillion network, established in 2018, initially covered a 500-mile terrestrial fiber system from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Subsequently, the company extended its reach with a groundbreaking 1,700-mile subsea fiber system—the first of its kind in the North American Arctic.
Until June 11, 2023, the network had operated flawlessly, bridging the digital divide for approximately 20,000 residents and businesses in Alaska Native communities such as Utqiaġvik, Point Hope, Wainwright, Kotzebue, and Nome. Previously lacking reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband and modern cell service, these communities now face a setback.
Quintillion’s customers also include military installations in Alaska, which have satellite redundancies to ensure communication continuity.
Grain Management, LLC, a private investment firm, acquired Quintillion in April.