The Alaska Power and Telephone Company has begun the process to install a new, 86-mile long fiber optic telecommunications cable through Lynn Canal.
The $10 million project will link Skagway and Haines to existing cables in Juneau and will mean improved Internet connection in Skagway with faster bandwidth once the cable is turned on.
Construction crews began work at Smuggler’s Cove on Tuesday, Aug. 3 and continued on through Thursday, Aug. 5 to install the underwater infrastructure where the cable will enter Skagway.
Crews worked along Dyea Road for the rest of the week and were expected to be finished by Aug. 12.
“That’ll give us time to really clean up the site,” said Vice President of Telecommunications, Engineering and Operations Tom Ervin. “It was raining and kind of wet down there, so as things dry off we’ll be able to do more touch ups on Smuggler’s Cove itself.”
The work dates corresponded with the lowest tide for the month of August, which allowed the work crews to install the pipeline to house the cable as far out in the water as it needed to be, Ervin said.
A manhole cover was installed in the area for workers to be able to access the pipeline once it comes time for the cable to be connected to the existing microwave site AP&T operates up the Dyea Road.
“They will also expand the gravel slab that’s down [in the cove] for the city to where the manhole will be completely hidden from view. It will be underground and there will be no presence there at all,” Ervin said.
Ervin said not to be concerned about a visible foot print left in Smuggler’s Cove from the construction.
“We’re going to keep a very close eye on the distance between the manhole and the water line,” Ervin said. “We understand that a lot of people use that area for recreation purposes, so we will plan on replanting the area that was disturbed with grass seeds, and we’ll hope for a quick recovery.”
AP&T estimates they will begin laying down the cable in the canal around Sept. 18 or 19, and it will take approximately three or four days to lay the first segment from Lena Point in Juneau to Haines.
The portion of the cable that will run from Haines to Skagway will be laid between Sept. 22 and 23, if the timetable is on schedule and weather conditions permit. This is when the portion that will run through Smuggler’s Cove will be installed.
“After they get the cable laid into Smuggler’s there, there will be a splicing operation at Smuggler’s just to tie in the sub-sea cable with our land-based cable and all of that activity, splicing in the cables from Juneau, Haines and Skagway will take roughly a week,” Ervin said.
After everything is hooked up, the cable will have a testing period of a couple weeks after it is tentatively turned on mid-October.
“We like to have a couple of weeks to burn in our electronics. That gives them time if there’s weak components or something, they’ll fail within that period of time,” Ervin said. “Before we have any traffic [on the cable] we like to find any weaknesses and get those replaced.”
Skagwegians should not expect any interruptions in their Internet service in the next few months during the cable installation.
“If there’s any interruption at all, it would be momentary, less than a minute,” he said. “There’s the microwave facility between Haines and Skagway, we also have the existing fiber between Skagway and Haines, so we have enough redundant facilities where there could only be a momentary blip on the screen when we cut over to the new facility.”
The transfer of service to the new cable would most likely occur during a maintenance window from about midnight to 5 a.m.
While it still might be impossible to stream a movie from Netflix during the afternoon on a four-ship day, Skagway residents can expect markedly improved Internet connection once the cable is switched on.
That doesn’t mean that residents should necessarily expect an increase in their bill for the improved service, however.
“What we’re trying to do is give more people more value for their money,” Ervin said. “Our goal really is to just provide more value for what people are paying today.”