Nomeites observed that their internet and cell service were spottier than normal on Sunday. By midmorning, it was evident that the interruption was more than temporary. Cell and internet companies said nothing about what happened. OTZ Telecommunications claimed that Quintillion had a big cable cut on Facebook, alerting GCI and Starlink clients.
On Monday afternoon, Quintillion President Mac McHale told the Nugget that a “pretty serious ice-scouring event” caused the Arctic Ocean seabed incision.
McHale said an early diagnostic indicated that the signal had been stopped 35 miles north of Oliktok Point, where the cable lies 90 feet below the ice-covered ocean surface. It may take weeks before the business can access the region to assess the damage and fix it.
Cable repairs may take six to eight weeks.
McHale said a repair ship is mobilizing. Dutch Harbor’s ship. Access is our problem. It’s icy. Coming around Point Barrow and into the operations area will be tricky. It needs careful preparation. This is a long-term solution. Repairs take six to eight weeks.All hands are on deck.”
Quintillion serves GCI, Fastwyre (previously TelAlaska), Alaska Communications, and ASTAC. McHale noted that they were exploring consumer backup options “to try to mitigate some of the inconvenience.”
He was unable to discuss any of those ideas 24 hours into the outage.
McHale said this is Quintillion’s first underwater cable network failure since going live. The cut affects Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, and Utqiagvik.
AT&T mobile phones failed.
The Front Street GCI store was filled with individuals waiting to convert to GCI services as Nome residents, companies, and other institutions scrambled to adapt. GCI partners with Quintillion, however an email to clients who still had access stated that “shortly after the break was reported, GCI began to migrate some impacted services to GCI’s satellite network and the TERRA networks.”
The email cautioned that consumers may experience slower internet and cellular services but that GCI staff are monitoring data flow to accommodate the greater volume and activity on the satellite and TERRA networks.
Most shops that sell credit cards online only accept cash. Hansons only accepts cash since Monday, whereas AC accepts cards. Bonanza Fuel accepts cash exclusively at the pump. People went to Wells Fargo’s ATMs to withdraw cash to buy things.
City Manager Glenn Steckman stated city hall is open, landline phones are functioning, but AT&T-based city employee cell phones, external email, and internet are not.
Steckman said the 911 system and landlines work, but internet data access is not. Cloud transactions—including internet sales tax collection—are challenging. “We will decide today whether we go back to filing with paper again and we’re looking at work-arounds to see how we can function,” said Steckman. “GCI employees work from home, but GCI internet is slow.”
Starlink is being considered by Steckman and others in town. “But every one of these changes cost money and we’re just trying to make things work,” Steckman added.
Steckman said the city was alerted Monday morning of the problem and the six- to eight-month repair timeframe.
A visitor from Little Diomede commented: Now you know what Little Diomede goes through. Island internet, phone, and cell coverage has been spotty this winter.