KODIAK — The future of rural Kodiak telephone and Internet service will start from a small, unremarkable building on Mill Bay Road — if the borough planning and zoning commission agrees.
The building is the connection site of the Kodiak Kenai Fiber Link, the undersea cable that hooks Kodiak to the outside world. If the Kodiak Kenai Cable Company gets its way, a new 50-foot microwave transmission tower will be built next to the building and serve as the keystone of a broadband Internet system connecting Port Lions and Ouzinkie to the same cable that serves Kodiak.
The problem is that area zoning allows only a 40-foot tower, which isn’t tall enough.
“This was the best option we looked at, without expensive costs to put up a tower somewhere else,” said program manager Dave Burns. “We’re only asking for a 10-foot height variance … It’s fairly minimal.”
In a planning and zoning work session Wednesday night, borough staff agreed, recommending approval of the tower and its three companions — microwave reflectors at Mount Herman, Ouzinkie and Course Point.
The project goes beyond convenience, Ouzinkie Mayor Dan Clarion said Wednesday.
“Right now everyone’s got HughesNet dishes, and it’s really slow and goes down at night,” Clarion said. “We had a house fire and the phone lines were down. We believe if we had this cell system, everyone could have used their phones. … Our phone lines have a habit of going down, and it seems like it happens every time there’s an emergency.”
The project won’t immediately solve the problem, since carriers such as ACS and GCI will still have to decide to provide service. Instead, it’s as if a utility built a sewer line to an unbuilt subdivision.
The system will have the equivalent capacity of more than 2,000 telephone lines used simultaneously.
This isn’t the first time Kenai Kodiak has started the microwave project. In 2008, construction began on a site atop Sharatin Mountain. Delays mounted, and work was still ongoing in December, when a severe winter storm set in, trapping four men on the mountain.
Alaska State Troopers, the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteers from Kodiak Island Search and Rescue mounted a successful rescue, but the station was left half-built and ice buildup prevented the company from salvaging much of its equipment, which the company will remove eventually.
This time, Kenai Kodiak has planned sites at lower elevations and will finish work before winter.
“I’m hoping it’ll happen again by October,” Kenai Kodiak board member Herman Squartsoff said. “It’s been something people have been waiting for for a long time.”
The borough planning and zoning commission will consider the tower proposal at its regular meeting July 20 in the borough building.
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