From the Arctic’s Melting Ice, an Unexpected Digital Hub

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The receding ice has opened new passageways for high-speed internet cables. Point Hope, a gravel spit in northwest Alaska, is along one of the new routes. 

High-speed internet cables snake under the world’s oceans, tying continents together and allowing email and other bits of digital data sent from Japan to arrive quickly in Britain. Until recently, those lines mostly bypassed the Arctic, where the ice blocked access to the ships that lay the cable. But as the ice has receded, new passageways have emerged, creating a more direct path for the cable — over the earth’s northern end through places like the Chukchi Sea — and helping those emails move even move quickly. Quintillion is one of the companies laying the new cable, and Point Hope is one of the places along its route.

Many of Point Hope’s older residents cringe at the incursion of technology.  "Inupiaq people are taught to be patient,” said Steve Oomittuk, a leading local whale hunter whose family has lived in Point Hope for many generations. “We wait for animals to come to us for our food, our shelter, our medicine, our clothing. The internet makes people impatient for everything. This is not our way of life.”

But interviews with dozens of Point Hope residents suggest that people here see Quintillion’s cable as a way of connecting with an outside world that has long been beyond easy reach — and something that could change their lives for the better. Leona Snyder, for one, is excited about what the connection could do for her Justice Jones, who turns 16 on Sunday. She wants him to go to college, which would mean leaving the village. Having broadband internet could help him study and research outside opportunities. “Internet means exposure to the world,” she said. “I want that for Justice. I want him to be a judge. Judge Justice Jones. It has a ring to it, don’t you think?”

From the Arctic’s Melting Ice, an Unexpected Digital Hub