The installation of a fiber optic cable from Juneau to Skagway has come to a halt due to unforeseen permitting issues – the cable would run through an underwater park.
Alaska Power and Telephone expected to begin installing the high-speed internet cable this fall, but in September were told the cable would run through the Chilkat Islands State Marine Park south of Haines.
Marine parks were created by the Alaska Legislature in 1983 and are meant to encourage recreation and tourism. There is no regulation or statute that would allow the parks division to approve a cable in such an area.
To reroute the cable around Kataguni, Shikoski, Anyaka and Talsani islands, AP&T would need to survey the new route, tacking on an extra $300,000, and additional cable would need to be purchased and spliced it into the existing one. The company has already spent $600,000 storing the current cable in Washington State.
But copper telephone lines that currently lie in the under water park might be the solution to AP&T’s problem.
Early in the 20th century, before marine parks existed, copper telecommunication lines were installed between Juneau and the northern end of Lynn Canal. Because of these lines, the park may be be able to authorize replacement of old ones, or may find that since old lines already exist, new lines aren’t a problem.
AP&T’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Garrett wouldn’t comment on the current status of the project, saying he wanted to wait until the state arrives at a decision.
But he did say that AP&T plans on moving forward, with construction set to begin in spring 2016.
The cable caused a stir in February due to its placement. When it emerges from the water in Skagway, it will be buried underground in Smuggler’s Cove.
The park is designated as an area meriting special attention and prohibits commercial use, but in May, the Borough Assembly approved an easement for AP&T to go ahead with the project.
The cable piqued the interest of Yukon users, too. Connecting to Skagway’s cable would help secure their current connection, which is only based off of one cable. If it’s severed, the entire territory loses Internet connection.
Once installed, the cable will bring Skagway’s Internet speeds up from the current eight megabytes per second to 12, and possibly 25 in the future.
Garrett said a ship is expected to be laying the cable in Upper Lynn Canal sometime in April. The rest of the shore work should be completed by June or July.
“We are hoping that it improves service in the Upper Lynn Canal so we can offer better broadband service,” he said.