The redundant cable systems used by Alaska Internet service providers are more than an added bonus for their customers.
While not required by law, Internet service providers in the state have chosen to make their systems redundant in order to avoid a situation similar to that which occurred last month in Arizona.
Vandals cut a fiber-optic cable north of Phoenix that resulted in a nearly 15-hour Internet blackout across much of the state last month.
A similar outage is unlikely to occur in Alaska, because Internet service providers in the state have backup systems, said GCI spokesman David Morris. Alaska’s urban areas, including much of the Kenai Peninsula, are connected through a fiber-optic ring, meaning if there were a break in a cable, service could continue uninterrupted due to the information being sent on a different route.
“You need to have two different routes,” Morris said.
GCI connected Alaska to Seattle with the fiber-optic cable system in 1999. According to GCI’s website, the $125 million system contains more than 2,300 miles of cable. Morris said that since the initial leg of the fiber-optic cable ring was completed, the company has continually improved and expanded it.
ACS, another Alaska Internet service provider, also has a redundant fiber-optic system that connects Alaska to the Lower 48. Part of the system, the Alaska-Oregon Network known as AKORN, was constructed in 2009 and connects Alaska to Oregon by undersea cables. ACS’s other fiber-optic line, the Northstar cable system, complements the AKORN cable to provide reliability.
“The AKORN fiber-optic network provides geographic diversity from other networks and redundancy in case of unforeseen circumstances or natural disaster,” according to the ACS website.
Morris said one reason a company wouldn’t have a backup system is that they have just completed the first leg of a ring, and have yet to finish the second.
Aside from providing better reliability, the expansion of the fiber-optic cables allow for more communities to have high-speed Internet.
The percentage of Alaskans without access to high speed Internet is significantly higher than the national average. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 38 percent of Alaskans currently don’t have access, compared to only 16 percent of people nationwide.
There are other ways to provide Internet where the redundant ring systems aren’t available in Alaska. Satellite systems serve as backup to ensure service in more rural parts of the state, Morris said.
While Alaska hasn’t seen any acts of vandalism as impactful as the recent Arizona events, there have been smaller incidents. Morris said in the past, people have been known to shoot at the above ground infrastructure.
Aside from deliberate acts of sabotage, the infrastructure has also been subject to accidents.
“The vast majority is going to be a contractor, backhoe, or a car running into (infrastructure),” Morris said.
Autumn is the season when GCI gets most concerned about accidents. Morris said contractors can get careless when they are in a hurry to finish projects before winter, which can cause an accident. Despite the occasional damage, he said Alaska’s redundant systems are impressive.
“For us to a have more (sophisticated system) than many parts of the Lower 48 speaks highly of the companies in Alaska,” he said.
Reach Ian Foley at firstname.lastname@example.org.