Technicians used a device like this to splice the severed fiber optic cable between Angoon and Sitka in February, 2016. That repair took six days, and required lifting the cable from the sea floor.  (GCI photo/Bruce Rein)

Telecommunication services to Sitka and Angoon were disrupted early Thursday morning (7-13-17) when the fiber optic cable serving those communities was damaged.

Heather Handyside, director of corporate communications for GCI, says the break in the cable was detected at around 7 a.m. somewhere on Douglas Island near Juneau.

Although some service in Douglas was affected, Sitka and Angoon took the big hit, and were both without internet or cell phone service while GCI rerouted traffic to backup satellite and terrestrial networks.

Handyside says that the backup systems are carrying most traffic now – just a bit slower.

“People will see a resumption of their services – especially wireless and internet – but it may not be as fast as they are used to.”

Cable television was also affected, with GCI customers losing just some channels, or in some cases, losing television altogether. 360 North, Juneau’s public television service, was impaired. Handyside says that repair efforts right now are focused on restoring internet and cell phone.

Cell phone customers of Verizon and AT&T also lost service during the outage. Handyside says there is a complicated agreement that allows other providers to use the GCI fiber optic cable.

“In general, carriers will use the same networks, or the same fibers. So often if there’s a cut to fiber that one company owns, it may affect other carriers who use that fiber.”

Handyside says that GCI plans to restore its own traffic – and that of other providers – to the fiber optic cable at the same time.

The last time the cable broke in February 2016 the damage occurred on the sea floor, and required a special ship from Seattle and six days to raise and splice the cable. Handyside says that this break is on land, and should be repaired by GCI technicians within 24 hours.

Handyside says that, despite the challenges, GCI remains committed to providing fiber optic services to Southeast Alaska.

“People have an appetite for it. There’s lots more great content out there. The more we build, the more people need.”

And when it fails on occasion, people will need more cash. Credit card machines were unavailable during the outage, but most commerce carried on nevertheless in downtown Sitka, using actual money.