An Alaskan telecommunications company has completed the construction of an overland fibre link connecting the state to the Lower 48, with Northwestel helping to move traffic south through the Yukon. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Alaskan telecom finishes fibre line linking state to Lower 48 via the Yukon

Northwestel is among the Canadian companies carrying MTA’s traffic down south

An Alaskan telecommunications company has completed the construction of an overland fibre link connecting the state to the Lower 48, with Northwestel helping to move traffic south through the Yukon.

MTA Fiber Holdings, a subsidiary of Matanuska Telephone Association, announced in a press release May 26 that it had completed the Alaska Canada Overland Network, or AlCan ONE for short, and traffic was flowing.

It’s the first terrestrial fibre network to connect Alaska to the rest of the continental U.S. The state previously relied solely on underwater cables to connect it to the internet; MTA didn’t own any and had to pay other carriers to use them.

“After decades of talk about a terrestrial fibre optic path out of Alaska, our whole organization is proud to have accomplished this historic feat safely and efficiently,” MTA CEO Michael Burke said in the press release.

“Especially during this pandemic, connection via technology is absolutely vital, and whatever short-term capacity forecast that we had when we began this project a year ago has been blown out of the water due to the COVID-19 crisis. We don’t know what the new normal is going to look like, but the AlCan ONE network lays the groundwork to meet the needs for today, while helping us plant the seeds to meet future demand and help Alaska grow.”

MTA spokesperson Kyle Wall said in an email May 28 that the project was formally completed on May 14, with traffic beginning to flow the same day.

MTA’s portion of the line, according to the press release, “runs nearly 300 miles long from North Pole, Alaska, to the Canadian border,” with Canadian carriers shuttling the traffic from there.

A fibre line extension built and owned by Northwestel meets MTA’s infrastucture at the Canadian-U.S. border.

Northwestel had submitted a plan to build a 325-kilometre fibre line extension to the Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Board (YESAB) in January 2019, proposing that the cable pass through Haines Junction, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing and Beaver Creek before hitting the border.

Northwestel spokesperson Andrew Anderson said in an email that the “construction, engineering and testing” of the extension was completed this year, and that the company’s next step “is to connect western Yukon communities to the fibre transport,” also this year.

Northwestel has a long-term “fibre-to-the-home” plan that aims to connect terrestrially-served rural communities to its fibre network, which would allow for faster, more reliable internet speeds and larger packages than current terrestrial DSL plans can currently offer.

Anderson declined to “disclose specifics related to any contractual agreements and costs,” including how much Northwestel’s extension cost to build or the length of the contract, if any, the company had with MTA.

Wall said that MTA has “no plans” to offer any services in Canada.

In an interview, Yukon Minister of Economic Development Ranj Pillai said he thought that the project “looks like it was executed very well” and that any infrastructure coming into the Yukon “is going to be important.”

“We’ve seen, of course, our own projects going forward with the Dempster (redundancy line), we now have this in place, we have the existing route … It’s going to be what becomes our foundation for a modern economy,” Pillai said of the Yukon’s increased connectivity.

“… It’s good news for Yukoners and just you know, I want to thank MTA for putting this investment in the Yukon.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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