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Update: Friday phone service outage in Dillingham due to issue with Nushagak Co-op's fiber

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Izzy Ross

Nushagak Cooperative said Friday afternoon that the disruption in phone and GCI data service started when one of the co-op's fiber paths failed, and GCI's traffic wasn't able to switch to a backup line.

Update at 3:00 p.m. on March 11:
For four hours on Friday, people were unable to make or receive calls from many cell phones and landlines in Dillingham due to a failure in one of Nushagak Cooperative's fiber paths, which stretched from downtown to Kanakanak Hospital.

Nushagak has multiple fiber routes throughout Dillingham. Telecom General Manager Trung Vo said that when a fiber path fails, its traffic typically switches over to a backup path. But the co-op hadn't programmed GCI's phone and data traffic to take a backup path.

"The basic way to say it: There's two different roads getting from where they needed to go from one end to the other, and they weren't programmed to take the other road when one failed," he explained on Friday afternoon.

Once they identified the programming issue, he said, it took less than 30 minutes to restore phone service and re-program the GCI traffic. That means there shouldn't be an outage if another fiber path fails in the future.

Vo said the co-op doesn't yet know why the fiber path failed.

"The [technicians] are still looking. It could be just a an optic, which is a what's called an SSP — it takes your photons and turn them into electrons and it plugs into an electronic box," he said.

Full service was restored to the area around 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

Update at 2:30 p.m. on March 11: GCI Chief Communications Director Heather Handyside said that GCI's cell phone service has been restored.

Original article:
As of noon today, cell phone users in Dillingham are unable to make or receive calls from landlines due to a wireless tower outage.

It’s not immediately clear why. But as a temporary measure to enable GCI cellular callers to reach Kanakanak Hospital in an emergency, GCI has advised cell phone callers to dial (907) 843-3700 instead of 911. That's according to Cynthia Rogers, the community engagement director for the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. She said the health corporation will relay calls to the Dillingham police as needed.

People calling from landlines should still be able to connect to the hospital's numbers and 911.

GCI is the only cellular service provider in Bristol Bay.

In an email, Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside said the company first noticed an issue at 10:30 a.m. today (FRI), and data service has been affected as well. She said the outage appears to be impacting a single wireless tower in Dillingham, and that overlapping coverage from other towers means some calls are still going through.

Several hospital staff members had tried to make calls from their cell phones this morning. At first, they worried that it was an issue with the hospital’s IT.

“So after some reports into our IT department, they reached out to GCI and discovered that yes, it was a widespread issue," Rogers said. "And it was not isolated to Kanakanak Hospital. So from there, we informed all of our staff that were being impacted here. And then we were also getting some messages through other channels like Facebook, that some patients were trying to reach the hospital and were not able to do so on their phone.” 

Rogers said the police have been notified as well.

Contact the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.