A fiber-optic cable similar to this one was severed on Douglas Island Thursday, leading to problems for some GCI customers. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A fiber-optic cable similar to this one was severed on Douglas Island Thursday, leading to problems for some GCI customers. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Broken cable causes problems for some GCI customers

A break in a Douglas Island fiber-optic cable caused problems Thursday for GCI customers in northern Southeast.

On Thursday afternoon, GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside said technicians noticed issues about 7 a.m.

“We determined there was a fiber break on Douglas Island,” she said.

Angoon and Sitka saw most of the trouble, she said, though some parts of Douglas Island were also affected, and TV service in Ketchikan and Wrangell also had problems.

GCI’s Alaska United fiber-optic cable system serves Southeast Alaska and connects Southcentral Alaska to the Lower 48. While telecommunications traffic bound for Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan has two ways to travel, there’s only one route to Sitka.

That route involves a fiber-optic cable leaving the west side of Douglas Island just south of Outer Point. The cable crosses Stephens Passage to Young Bay and crosses Admiralty Island’s short isthmus to Hawk Inlet, where it dives back into the ocean. The cable goes south to Angoon, then crosses Chatham Strait and enters Peril Strait to reach Sitka from the north.

Undersea cables are considered more reliable than those on land ─ there’s less chance of an errant excavator or thoughtless shovel to break them.

That consideration seemed to hold true on Thursday. Handyside said the break appeared to be somewhere on Douglas Island.

While splicing crews searched for the source of the malfunction, GCI switched its customers to satellite service, a slower but more reliable option under the circumstances.

“The services are now available in many communities, but they’re going to be slower,” Handyside said about 4 p.m.

She added that traditional service likely wasn’t long in coming.

“We expect to have services restored within the next 24 hours,” she said.

GCI’s dead-end link to Sitka has experienced problems before. In early 2016, the same cable was frayed by tidal action that chafed it against the rough floor of Chatham Strait.

In that case, GCI had to call for the repair ship Wave Venture to come north and repair the damage.

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

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