GCI plans undersea cable

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Anchorage-based General Communication Inc. on Monday announced plans to build a $50 million undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Seward with Warrenton, Ore.

The cable will supplement existing fiber line connecting Alaska with the Lower 48.

Initially, the new cable will be capable of carrying more than 258,000 simultaneous voice or data circuits at transmission speeds of 20 billion bits per second. As demand increases, the cable's capacity can be increased to support more than 8 million simultaneous circuits at speeds of 640 billion bits per second, said David Morris, a GCI spokesman. The current line can carry 32,000 simultaneous circuits, he said.

The company said it is not building the line because Alaska needs more fiber-optic capacity.

Instead, GCI is spending the money roughly half its capital budget for this year to give itself an alternative fiber-optic line should there be a problem with its existing one.

The two cables will provide an instant backup to each other in the event of an outage on either, Morris said.

GCI provides long-distance and local phone, cable TV and high-speed Internet services. GCI has been working at getting access to a second high-capacity interstate fiber-optic line for a couple of years. The company currently owns one linking Whittier with Seattle.

Neptune Communications, a Fairfax, Va.-based company, owns a similar cable. AT&T Alascom owns an older, much smaller fiber-optic cable between Alaska and the Lower 48.

Fiber optics are thin strands of glass through which light beams carry huge amounts of data, including phone calls, faxes, Internet data and video.

Because it has access to only one fiber-optic cable going Outside, GCI has to revert to using satellites to carry its signals when there is a problem in the line, Morris said.

While that system works, it could cause some disruptions in service, especially for customers whose networking equipment is configured specifically to work with fiber optics, Morris said.

When the new 1,544-mile cable is running, in about a year, GCI will have a seamless backup system in place, Morris said.

GCI had been negotiating to lease capacity on the Neptune line. But the company was unable to agree on terms and determined it would be cheaper to build its own, Morris said.

A consortium of companies, including NEC Corp., OCC Corp. and Global Marine Systems Ltd., will design, engineer, manufacture and install the undersea cable system, GCI said.

Manufacturing of the cable and equipment will start immediately. The line is to be working by the end of next May, GCI said.

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