The Ketchikan City Council held a special meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the interruption of Ketchikan Public Utilities' internet service caused by damage to lines in Canada, and to consider approval of paying $216,000 to GCI for temporary use of some of its internet capacity while the lines are under repair.

City of Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer and Council Member Janalee Gage were absent. Council Member Abby Bradberry joined the meeting virtually.

After a short executive session, the council voted to approve the agreement, with Council Member Riley Gass voting no.

The KPU Internet business, according to a memo written by KPU Telecommunications Division Manager Ed Cushing, provides service to more than 3,000 local customers and it consists of four primary network elements: an undersea fiber optic cable between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia; a microwave radio system between those two cities; ownership of capacity on GCI's undersea cable running between Ketchikan and Seattle; and a direct connect to the GCI network in Ketchikan.

Cushing wrote that "all network elements are designed to 'fail over' to the other network elements in event of an outage on any individual element."

He added that in Prince Rupert, the undersea cable and the microwave radio system connect to providers of "terrestrial" fiber systems. Those, in turn, use alternate redundant fiber routes to transport internet traffic to Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle.

Cushing then described the troubles experienced in Canada this week that have caused KPU's internet problems.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Cushing wrote, a contractor's vehicle in Prince Rupert destroyed a section of a Canadian aerial fiber, which effectively shut down all connections and internet traffic to and from KPU's undersea fiber optic cable. The cable was repaired by about 2 p.m. Monday.

Soon after, however, what Cushing described to the council at Wednesday's meeting as a "100-year storm" hit southern British Columbia, causing mudslides, landslides and flooding.

Cushing wrote in his memo that the disastrous events destroyed or damaged roads, railways and most fiber optic cable routes serving northern British Columbia and caused extended network failures in the Vancouver, British Columbia area.

He added that, due to those events, the KPU undersea cable route was reduced to flowing 25% of its normal capacity.

Due to the damage to transportation routes, Cushing noted, the Canadian fiber optic cable providers have not been able to predict when KPU's service will be fully restored. Informal estimates range from days to weeks, he wrote.

The Canadian network outage resulted in KPU's remaining in-service network operating at about 45% "at best," Cushing wrote. The result was that service for locals during the daytime was "moderately to barely acceptable," but "the system basically stops"during the evening when customers normally demand a higher load.

Cushing told the council during the meeting that one option is simply "to live with" the crippled internet system, or choose to lease internet capacity from GCI.

The option to simply wait until the lines are repaired is really not a fair one for customers, he said.

It's not a viable option because customers need internet for school and streaming services, for example, he explained. He added that it also is not a viable option for KPU because it would mean KPU would lose customers.

The only option to lease capacity from is GCI, Cushing added, as GCI is the only other company that KPU can "plug into."

KPU staff already has contacted GCI, Cushing said, and GCI representatives agreed to provide the capacity at the cost of $216,000.

Cushing further explained that because of the competitive nature of the business, he can disclose the cost of the agreement with GCI, but not the length of the term agreed to or amount of the capacity GCI will provide.

He then said that "as of this very moment we are hooked up to GCI's additional capacity, and so we're basically back in service, right where we should be, in terms of having sufficient capacity for our customers' demand, 24-hours a day."

Council Member Gass asked how KPU could already be connected to GCI when the council had not yet approved the funding transfer.

Cushing explained, "We are doing that with the understanding that we will come to this council on an emergency basis and request your authority to enter into this contract and payment."

In answer to a question from Gass about how long the term of the contract would be, Cushing reminded him that he could not discuss that in public, but that if the repairs were not made by the time the term ended, then the council would once again be asked to approve another payment for a new contract with GCI.

Gass said that although he dislikes the use of executive sessions, because they are not open to the public, he would request one to discuss the critical details. The motion to enter executive session unanimously was approved.

After a short executive session, the council voted 5-1 to approve the motion to declare as an emergency the internet service disruptions, authorize the necessary money transfers between KPU accounts to pay for the GCI contract, and to direct Acting Ketchikan City Manager Lacey Simpson to execute a change order for the existing agreement with GCI for internet capacity in the amount of $216,000.

Under the council member comments at the meeting's end, only Council Member Jai Mahtani shared his thoughts on the issue, expressing his hope that the emergency situation would be resolved quickly, as the city's budget deliberations are to start soon, and the "constraints are huge."