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Sliced fiber optic cable leads to widespread GCI outage

Ben Anderson

A cut fiber optic cable led to a widespread phone, cable and Internet outage in a good portion of Alaska on Wednesday, according to numerous news sources. The outages started in the early afternoon, as customers started mentioning a lack of service on the Facebook page of telecom company General Communication Inc.

Soon, numerous sources were reporting a loss of phones, including land lines not working at television station KTVA and the Anchorage Daily News. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that outages of both ACS and GCI were occurring in the Interior. One Juneau resident reported losing cell phone service on Alaska Dispatch's Facebook page.

GCI spokesman David Morris said that the outage was the result of a fiber optic line accidentally cut by a technician performing some work in midtown Anchorage. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Morris said that services should be restored shortly; crews were working to fix the cable.

"We still don’t know what services were affected, or geographic distribution of that," Morris said. "That takes a little longer to figure out than the first two hours of the outage."

Fiber optic cables are capable of carrying vast amounts of data, so severing one can have widespread implications. A ship dragging its anchor off the African coast last week caused a major Internet slowdown for eastern Africa when the anchor sliced through a fiber optic cable on the sea floor. Last year, a 75-year-old woman living in the Eastern European country of Georgia cut through a cable with a spade shovel and killed Internet services to Armenia -- the entire country.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that outages in Interior Alaska may have been related to disruptions to Anchorage-based communications servers rather than any direct connection between the severed cable in Anchorage.

Fiber optic cables are generally buried underground. Anyone hoping to do some digging in their yard or elsewhere should call 811, the Alaska Dig Line, to obtain free underground utility location services. The Alaska Dig Line requires a two-business-day notice prior to any excavation.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com