North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower issued an emergency declaration on June 14 in the wake of a severed unwater fiberoptic cable that has resulted in the widespread loss of internet and cellular phone service across the vast rural Alaska community.
Quintillion, which provides broadband service in Arctic Alaska, said its subsea fiber was cut on June 10, about 34 miles north of Oliktok Point. The cut has caused a systemwide outage, affecting Utqiagvik, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue, Nome and Atqasuk.
The company suggested the breakage may have occurred due to heavy ice movement 90 feet below the ocean surface, and it is working with undersea cable maintenance teams to restore the services.
“A repair vessel has been mobilized and is enroute to the area. We will be working to coordinate the timing of the vessel arrival with the ice break up around point Barrow,” Quintillion’s website notes. “At present, we are unable to provide an exact timeline for service restoration due to the complexity of the issue … The current estimate is 6-8 weeks depending on timing of ice breakup and repair requirements.”
Bower’s emergency declaration notes that the North Slope Borough is a political subdivision withing the State of Alaska, providing municipal services and infrastructure to the area, and that it needs immediate outside help to address the outage.
“The loss of these communication services will severely impact the ability to provide municipal services including emergency services, such as Search and Rescue, Police, Fire and Utilities,” the declaration states. “The severity and magnitude of the emergency is beyond the timely and effective response capability of local resources within the North Slope Borough and emergency assistance is needed.”
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According to a June 15 report from KNOM Radio Mission, 911 service in Nome remained working, and there has been “intermittent cell and internet service,” allowing for a handful of businesses and ATMs to accept credit or debit cards.
Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman explained that 911 calls on cellular phones utilize an emergency function, which allows those calls to continue in the wake of the crisis. Additionally, Steckman told KNOM that the city maintains its own radio system that is independent of outside sources. Emergency communication, he said, can continue through the city’s radio system.
“We have gotten dependent on Quintillion and now we’re having to look back okay what can we do what should we do before we had Quintillion,” Steckman said.
Quintillion is the only provider of its kind serving Western Alaska and North Slope Arctic regions.