Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions
Fiber Optic Cable vs LEO Satellites
(RE: Proposition 2 - KPU Undersea Fiber to Prince Rupert)
By Ed Cushing
August 21, 2019
To the editor:
I appreciated Joe Ashcraft’s recent SitNews letter (August 16), regarding KPU’s proposed undersea fiber optic cable vs. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, along with various related issues from twenty years ago. The points raised in his letter are worth fleshing out, and I offer the information below to that end:
1. I especially appreciate the fact that - as Mr. Ashcraft pointed out - the purpose of his letter was not to discourage KPU’s proposed investment in an undersea cable (in fact, over 20 years ago he encouraged consideration of this very type of investment). Unfortunately, 20 years ago the cost of undersea fiber construction was too extreme. Most importantly, one of the primary ideas being promoted at that time (KPU building an undersea ‘spur’ to meet GCI’s undersea cable offshore) would have meant that KPU was forever locked into connecting undersea with its primary competitor. The idea did not fly financially, nor should it have flown strategically.
2. Mr. Ashcraft suggests that KPU’s proposed undersea “single fiber” might be risky. Although KPU plans to build a single fiber cable between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert – the overall KPU network includes network-redundancy (simply put, if KPU’s undersea fiber is cut or damaged, our network traffic will automatically re-route to other segments of our network and our customers will remain in-service).
3. Mr. Ashworth claims that about twenty years ago KPU “… blocked APT from landing a fiber (in Ketchikan).…”). There is simply no truth to this unfortunate legend. Yesterday I confirmed with AP&T’s CEO that AP&T never had any plans to land an undersea cable in Ketchikan. Please note AP&T’s current CEO has been an AP&T senior management employee for well in excess of 20 years.
4. I was not with KPU 20 years ago (Mr. Ashworth references a KPU “pieced together system” at that time). But I can tell you that in 2013 KPU constructed a digital microwave between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert. KPU’s digital microwave mountaintop system works flawlessly. KPU also (in 2013) built an advanced 4G/LTE wireless system throughout Ketchikan and in Skagway. KPU’s 4G/LTE system has performed extraordinarily well – and caused the other wireless companies to immediately invest and upgrade their systems to 4G/LTE in order to remain competitive. Also, in 2013, we purchased and continue to own/operate/control a portion of our competitor’s undersea cable. Lastly, we own and operate a virtually 100% fiber-to-the-home-and-business local network. There are very, very, very few communities in the United States that can say the same. Clearly, the KPU Telecom’s network of today (along with our technical talent) is vastly superior to virtually any similarly-sized local telecommunications company in Alaska and/or the Lower 48. Period.
5. Mr. Ashcraft states that KPU “…. intentionally did not put fiber along the power lines to the 4 Dam Pool sites which would have made a ring redundancy with GCI in Wrangell and here …. “. This is another unfortunate legend that simply is not true. Mr. Ashcraft is referring to a SEAPA project that was not engineered, directed or otherwise managed by KPU. From a telecommunications perspective I can tell you this type of project would not have been eligible for federal subsidies – and would have required millions of dollars to construct – which begs the question: Who would have paid for it? In any event, this is a question for SEAPA, and did not and does not have anything to do with KPU Telecommunications.
Lastly, Mr. Ashcroft notes that Low Earth Orbit satellite services are coming to Alaska. This is true. It is also true that:
6. In 2018 OneWeb promised Congress their LEO satellites would cover Alaska in full force in 2019. Instead, a few months ago only 6 test LEO satellites were launched, and according to One Web’s CEO, ““If we get six out of six working, that will be amazing ….”. It is predicted test services will be available for some LEO customers in 2020. LEO remains a work in progress. Additionally, outside the lab, in real world settings, the ‘speed’ of LEO may likely be far less than the touted “500 megs”. But Mr. Ashcraft is correct: LEO will be here someday, and LEO is an exciting prospect for much of remote and/or rural Alaska. LEO services should be a big improvement for the average cabin, or for folks living in areas like Coffman Cove who are starved for high-speed Internet service. However, as a practical matter, we are quickly approaching a future wherein the average Ketchikan home (and many businesses) will have or require 1Gig (1,000 Meg) service and that just is not going to work with LEO satellite service. Rather, in Ketchikan’s case, it’s going to require fiber optic ‘backbone’ cable network between Ketchikan and Seattle. In the meantime we look forward to someday competing with LEO providers, just as we presently enjoy competing with GCI, AT&T, Direct TV, DISH Network, etc.
7. Mr. Ashcraft closes his letter suggesting that “… KPU management show their projections for the ROI with the projected LEO influence …. “. KPU Telecom will be publishing a great deal of information about Proposition 2 – the Revenue Bond for financing construction of the undersea fiber to Prince Rupert. This will include the fact that the project essentially pays for itself – by reducing KPU’s expenses (by eliminating network resources we presently must rent from others to meet demand). However, as a competitive for-profit business, KPU is no more able or willing to publicly publish our confidential competitive information – than is GCI, or AT&T, or T-Mobile or than is, I suspect, Mr. Ashcraft.
In closing, it’s estimated (from 2016 -2020) that an unprecedented investment in worldwide construction of 200,000 miles of new undersea fiber optic cables will have totaled over $13 billion dollars. There is a fundamental reason for this unprecedented level of investment. The future is high-speed data …. data in speeds and amounts it seems we’ve only just begun to imagine, for a level of digital products and services that are mindboggling. It is worth considering that just seven short years ago ‘smart phones’ and ‘smart’ TV’s did not exist, Netflix DVD’s came in the mail, basically nobody streamed much of anything, and 4G/LTE was a ‘future’ technology.
It is no understatement that the digital world has changed dramatically and the pace of change is accelerating. Thriving and competing in the digital future requires that Ketchikan and KPU’s network be physically connected via fiber to Seattle, via Prince Rupert. With KPU’s construction of an undersea cable to Prince Rupert, Ketchikan will finally, once and for all, own and control its digital future - and will no longer have the ultimate timing, control and cost of its telecommunications destiny controlled by corporations headquartered in Anchorage, Denver, or New Jersey.
The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.
Received August 19, 2019
- Published August 21, 2019
Fiber Optic Cable vs LEO Satellites By Joe Ashcraft
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