Cable Vessel Arrives for GCI’s AU-Aleutians Fiber Project
C/S Intrepid arrives in Unalaska, ready to lay subsea fiber for GCI’s AU-Aleutians project.
More than 800 miles of fiber optic cable arrived in Unalaska after a month-long voyage from Germany, ready to be laid on the seafloor to connect the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula to the mainland broadband network.
The Beginning of the End
“To realize that we’re only about 800 miles away from having the backbone infrastructure in place to deliver urban-level connectivity to some of the most remote communities in the nation is incredibly exciting,” says GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside. “This project has been years in the making, and thanks to the hard work of dozens of GCI staff and the steadfast support of residents and leaders in these six communities, we’re closer than ever to effectively closing the digital divide in the Aleutians.”
The cable-laying vessel C/S Intrepid is deploying the fiber, beginning this week in Unalaska. The endpoint will be at Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island. Along the way, C/S Intrepid will stop in Akutan, Sand Point, King Cove, and Chignik Bay. GCI expects to complete its subsea fiber deployment by early fall.
Over the next two years, additional crews will prepare each community for the shoreside fiber connection. Service is scheduled to begin at Unalaska and Akutan by the end of 2022, Sand Point and King Cove by the end of 2023, and Chignik Bay and Larsen Bay in late 2024.
“I feel like a broken record, but the impact the Aleutian Fiber Project will have can’t be emphasized enough,” says GCI Rural Affairs Director Jenifer Nelson. “GCI has worked for decades to deliver the best possible connectivity solutions to our customers and is committed to bringing fiber, the gold standard of connectivity, wherever possible. This level of connectivity is truly life changing and will empower the residents of these communities to engage with the state, the nation, and the world like never before.”
This Mortal Coil
More than 800 miles of subsea fiber coiled inside the cargo hold of M/V Vertom Thea in Germany.
The cable has already been spooled, unspooled, and spooled again. Most of the voyage from the manufacturer was handled by M/V Vertom Thea, and then the load was transferred to C/S Intrepid in British Columbia. C/S Intrepid, the vessel equipped to actually lay the fiber, completed the final leg to Unalaska.
GCI crews and contractors have carefully surveyed the planned route, taking precautions to ensure the integrity of Alaska’s ecosystems and cultural resources. Throughout the fiber laying process, marine biologists aboard C/S Intrepid will monitor animal activities, including migration patterns, fishing grounds, and mammal groups.
The AU-Aleutians Fiber Project is expected to cost $58 million. GCI was awarded a $25 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program in support of the project. The company is investing $33 million of its own capital to pay for project costs not covered by the ReConnect grant.