Subsea Fiber Break Suspected Cause Of Bethel GCI Internet Issues

Jan 31, 2020

Bethel GCI customers experienced intermittent internet connectivity on Jan. 28 and 29, and the problem could have been caused by a break in a subsea fiber-optic cable. GCI discovered the cable break on Jan. 28 in Cook Inlet near Kenai.

GCI has constructed its network in a series of rings, so that when a break occurs in one area of a ring, the signals reroutes in the other direction.

“Sometimes when we do that it can interrupt service because we are switching the amount of capacity between out fibers, or the strands within the network. And so it is possible if there were slower internet speeds in Bethel, it could have been a result of the fiber,” said GCI's Vice President of Communications, Heather Handyside.

It’s difficult for the company to determine the extent of disruption in Bethel. GCI received only eight reports of internet service issues on Jan. 28 and 29. However, reports on social media indicate that a greater number of people had problems. Handyside encouraged more people to report these issues directly to GCI when they occur.

“It helps us identify what the issues are that people are experiencing, and can help us pinpoint what the problem might be and how we can resolve it,” Handyside said.

Of course, connectivity problems can be a barrier to even being able to report these issues. 

“It’s true, so we communicate with our customers via landline, cell phone call. We have chat available on our website, and we can connect to our folks with email as well. So we have a lot of options available, but I know that can be frustrating if you’re having communication challenges,” Handyside said.

Handyside says that reporting issues after they occur is also helpful for GCI to identify ongoing problems in a community. 

GCI does not know what caused the subsea fiber break, saying in a press release that it could have been damaged by "encounters with man-made equipment like bottom trawling fishing gear and ship anchors, or natural causes like subsea turbidity currents, sea ice, or seismic activity." Repairs to the fiber may have to wait until ice conditions improve.