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GCI fiber optic cable damaged, likely by ship’s anchor

gci fiber optic cable july 2022
Laurelin Kruse
The C/S IT Intrepid begins deploying subsea fiber in Unalaska in July 2022.

Telecommunications company GCI has spent two-and-a-half years planning an underwater cable, promising to run high-speed broadband down the Aleutian chain.

The 800-mile fiber optic project had just passed a huge milestone earlier this month, when the company ran their first test and successfully brought connectivity to Unalaska.

But on Monday, mere weeks away from the official launch, something damaged the cable.

Heather Handyside, a spokesperson for the company, said the anchor from a passing ship most likely caused the damage.

“Once our crews identified the damage, we immediately requested the deployment of our fiber splicing ship. That's a fiber ship that is on standby in the lower 48, ready to respond to any incident like this where we require subsea fiber repairs,” Handyside said. “That ship is on its way and estimated to arrive in the next week, and will immediately begin repairs on the damaged fiber.”

GCI does not expect the damaged cable to delay the company’s plans to turn on service by the end of the year, according to Handyside.

“Damage to subsea fiber … is a relatively rare incident, but it does happen,” she said.

Handyside said the company contracts to have a repair ship on call around the clock, 365 days a year in case of an incident like this one.

“I've been working for GCI for about six years and I can maybe recall one time that the ship was called out to do a subsea fiber repair, and that was not due to an anchor, it was due to an undersea landslide. So if that gives you some perspective on how frequent these fiber incidents occur, they are very rare,” she said.

GCI has operated over 6,000 miles of subsea fiber between Alaska and the Lower 48 for decades, with almost no incidents, according to Handyside.

She said GCI is working to educate the public, mariners, and anyone who might work around the cable sites of their locations.

“We belong to national and international associations who make it their business to share this kind of information to prevent these kinds of incidents, and we have a really strong track record of success,” Handyside said. “So I feel confident in the future as we continue to talk about this new fiber and as we continue to increase awareness about it, just like all of the other fibers that we operate subsea to the Lower 48.”

GCI says the fiber project is still on track to deliver broadband internet to Unalaska sometime in December.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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