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Vol. 19, No. 34 Week of August 24, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2014: Futaris taps into fiber optic future

Telecom provider targets broadband deficit in rural Alaska with infrastructure investment; Calista extends reach by purchasing STG

Rose Ragsdale

Alaska-Washington Connection

For three decades Futaris Inc. (formerly Alaska Telecom, Inc.) has provided remote communication services throughout Alaska and the world. The telecommunications provider, a SBA 8(a) company, specializes in offering fully managed satellite communication networks and broadcasting services.

Now Futaris is hoping to extend its reach thanks to a recent investment in a new company engaged in helping to develop an ambitious communication infrastructure project set to span the Arctic from Europe to Asia.

Futaris is backing the efforts of Quintillion Networks Ltd., parent of Anchorage-based Quintillion Inc., which owns the rights to develop fiber optic landing sites in Alaska’s Arctic.

These sites will connect via spurs to a 9,300-plus-mile subsea fiber optic network between London and Tokyo that is currently in the pre-construction phase. The project is led by Toronto-based Arctic Fibre Ltd., which selected Quintillion Networks as its exclusive partner in Alaska, providing open-access to all communication service providers.

Futaris officials say Alaska has a broadband deficit, and the fiber optic cable project will fill that need and enable rural Alaska families and businesses along the western coast of the state to access affordable and reliable broadband Internet access.

“Broadband is fast becoming the key infrastructure element to economic growth, improved health care and education solutions and emergency response and national security capabilities,” said Elizabeth Pierce, chief executive officer, Quintillion Networks. “Significant Alaska investor participation has always been a goal for Quintillion, and we are pleased to add the vision and passion of the Futaris team.”

Seven landing sites

Quintillion has selected seven landing sites based upon market and feasibility analyses. Subject to federal approval, the landing sites will range from Shemya in the Aleutian Islands to Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope and cover Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope, Kotzebue and Nome. About 26,500 Alaska residents will gain access to affordable and virtually unlimited Internet by the end of 2015 under current construction plans.

The affordability and capacity of the project can provide a wide range of new opportunities in telecommunication services for schools, local governments, health care providers, Alaska Native corporations and rural businesses, as well as Futaris’ customer base of oil and gas and mining companies and government agencies and contractors.

Alaska communities will initially have 100 gigabits at their disposal. By comparison, satellite and microwave deployments are generally limited by technical and cost considerations to less than one gigabit.

Quintillion, meanwhile, envisions building a terrestrial fiber route along the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay down to Fairbanks where it can pick up existing fiber connectivity back to the Lower 48.

The arctic fiber optic cable is buried around the Alaska coast. A new trans-Pacific fiber optic cable extension to Seattle also may provide an opportunity to connect a spur to Unalaska.

The project aims to take advantage of international economic opportunities to route via the Northwest Passage and North Arctic. The communications network will run between England and Tokyo, connecting vital financial markets.

In Alaska, subsequent phases of the project are being developed with the goal of expanding the network to neighboring communities.

Quintillion Networks completed preliminary landing site surveys and submitted its application for landing licenses to the Federal Communications Commission and appropriate Alaskan authorities in the first half of 2014.

The Alaska and Canadian Arctic segments of the network are scheduled to be completed and ready-for-service by January 2016, with completion of the full end-to-end network between Japan and the United Kingdom in the third quarter of 2016.

Growing parent organization

Futaris is owned by Calista Corp., the second-largest of 13 Alaska Native regional corporations with more than 12,500 shareholders that was established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Calista has a region in western Alaska that encompasses more than 6.5 million acres and 56 villages, which are incorporated into 46 individual village corporations.

Calista has 20 active subsidiaries, providing services ranging from heavy equipment sales, IT, telecommunications and marketing services, to construction and facility management.

One of the corporation’s newest acquisitions is STG Inc., which has installed about 80 percent of the utility-scale wind projects currently in operation across the state, including providing crane support for the Fire Island Wind project near Anchorage and in rural communities throughout Alaska. STG also completed the 34-site tower and control buildings for the massive DeltaNet Project for United Utilities Inc. in southwest Alaska. STG is also a leading pile foundations contractor for western and Interior Alaska.

Additionally, the team at STG has extensive experience with diesel power generation projects, bulk fuel systems and other renewable energy projects.

“Calista continues to strengthen and grow with complementary acquisitions. That is one of our key obligations to our shareholders,” Calista Corp. President/CEO Andrew Guy said.

The acquisition of STG in September 2013 also included Alaska Crane Ltd., Terra Foundations Inc. and Gambell Properties LLC. Alaska Crane provides crane equipment and operators for nearly any size project. Its equipment includes the largest crane in Alaska, currently working on the Blue Lake Hydroelectric project in Sitka.

Calista also acquired Brice Inc., a family of businesses providing civil construction, marine services, equipment rentals and quarry materials, and Yukon Equipment Inc., a heavy equipment retail and rental company with three locations in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Wasilla, three years ago.

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