Dreams of access to faster internet in Haines and Skagway may come true later this year. This month, Alaska Power and Telephone is set to install an underwater fiber-optic cable in the Upper Lynn Canal. The cable will grow internet capacity in Haines and Skagway.
A ship holding an 86-mile fiber-optic cable will make its way from Washington to the Upper Lynn Canal within the next couple weeks. In mid-September, the crew will start laying the cable on the seafloor.
AP&T Chief Operating Officer and soon-to-be CEO Mike Garrett says the company is installing the fiber connection in order to ‘build for the future.’
“What’s happened in the past and what we expect in the future is the demand for data, whether it’s on the internet or through video or whatever is only going to increase,” Garrett said. “And we’re trying to build for the future for the areas we serve.”
Right now, AP&T uses a microwave network to provide internet service in Haines and Skagway. Garrett says the microwave is doing just fine handling the current demand. But the fiber-optic cable will allow unlimited capacity as demand and traffic grows.
“Right now we don’t have any congestion,” Garrett said. “But we see if we wanted to have higher speeds in Skagway and Haines in the future, we wouldn’t have enough capacity. And we’re building the fiber-optic ahead of time.”
Garrett says the goal is to provide faster speeds and high data caps at lower prices. Although he says he can’t make any promises about a drop in rates.
“You’re talking about a $10 million investment. In and of itself it wouldn’t be driving down internet prices,” he said. “It improves the value of what we’re providing.”
Garrett says current internet customers won’t necessarily notice a difference when the fiber is turned on because there’s already enough capacity in the microwave network to handle demand.
But AP&T will unveil new internet packages later this year or early next year. Those packages will offer faster download and upload speeds and higher data caps, Garrett says. He wouldn’t provide specifics about how the packages will differ from current options.
“When you go to see a movie, do they tell you what the movie is before you see it? No,” Garrett said. “So we’re holding a little bit in reserve for later on down the line. If people want to give us feedback for what they might like to see in packages, we’d love to hear about it. But at this point in time we’re going to save that information.”
The fiber-optic line will run from Lena Point near Juneau, to Lutak Inlet by Haines, and then up to Smuggler’s Cove near Skagway. AP&T has already done work installing manholes and other infrastructure in those locations. Once the underwater cable is installed, Garrett says the company will conduct tests, which will take about a month.
“It’s safe to say middle of October to end of October to be fully up and running and carrying traffic over that.”
The plans to increase internet capacity in Haines and Skagway using a fiber-optic cable have been in the works for about two years.
Earlier this year, AP&T was granted permission from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to use more than 300 acres of State tidelands and submerged lands for the cable. AP&T will pay the state $35,000 annually for the land. The project is estimated to cost $10 million total.
Garrett says it’s an expensive investment.
“When you’re considering the number of customers in the area, you’re looking at year-round in Skagway you might have 800 to 900 residents. Maybe 1,200, 1,300 [customers] in Haines. So it’s a fairly large investment.”
Garrett says there are no concrete plans to extend the fiber-optic cable to the Yukon. But AP&T is open to the possibility. And, because the fiber-optic connection has unlimited capacity, Garrett says that type of extension would have no impact on the service in Alaska.