The Arctic Circle in touch: the launch of the Arctic Synergy project
Yakutia starts to pull fibre optic cables to remote settlements9 june 2023
The Arctic Synergy project was first presented to the public in 2022. Born in the bowels of the Ministry of Innovations, Digital Development and Infocommunication Technologies of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), it was discussed with Maksut Shadaev, Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, and then with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin during his visit to the Yakutsk IT Park. The ambitious plan to digitalise remote Arctic settlements is to be implemented in a short timeframe - by 2025, almost 72,000 people should have sustainable access to the Internet. After intense planning and searching for effective solutions, implementation began in the spring of 2023 in Yakutia.
Connecting to the Arctic
The Russian Arctic is a vast region that is heterogeneous in terms of telecommunications development because of a combination of geographical, climatic and economic conditions. According to statistics voiced by Andrey Volin, Director General of FGUP Cosmic Communications, over 90% of the AZRF population have access to digital services, and 98.6% have received digital television by 2022. At the same time, 90% of the AZRF area is not covered by either services or the Internet. The way of doing this depends critically on many factors—in some places, satellite communication is the only technically feasible option, while in other places fibre optic cable access can be arranged. According to Anatoly Semyonov, Minister of Digital Development of the Sakha Republic, over the past 10 years, Yakutia has succeeded in doing the almost impossible: move from radio and satellite communications to broadband connections via FOCL for 363 settlements, which means 13,000 km of cable and 90% coverage of the region.
Today, with the development of the North Sea Route and the economic role of the Arctic in the national economy, it has become possible to bring the Internet to very remote, Arctic regions as well. These are 86 district centres and settlements (52 Arctic and 34 hard-to-reach settlements), Sergey Neustroyev, Yakutia's First Deputy Minister on Development of the Arctic and the North's Peoples' Affairs, told TASS. They are home to about 72,000 people who will have access to telemedicine, tele-education and other benefits of digital civilisation, and their internet tariffs will drop by a factor of 100. Over the next two years, more than 7,000 km of cable, with a bandwidth of 392 Gb/s, will stretch there.
A large-scale construction project requires large-scale financing: the cost of the Synergy Arctic project is estimated at RUB 12 bn. Such a project can only be organised on the basis of a public-private partnership, as the business itself is not yet prepared to take such risks.
'The project is certainly not cheap, which is why cellular and satellite operators are not going there, it's expensive,' Anatoly Semyonov, Minister of Digital Development of the Sakha Republic, said at a meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.»
The Yakut company Arctic Telecom, which invested about RUB 1.3 bn, took part in connecting the Arctic regions. The rest of the funds came from the federal and regional budgets in equal proportions.
The deep-sea Internet
A separate and important project to digitalise the Yakut Arctic is the laying of a fibre-optic cable along the bottom of the Arctic Ocean to the Tiksi settlement. It is the northernmost port in the Russian Federation, a 'sea gateway' to the Republic of Sakha, and a key transport hub for the eastern part of the North Sea Route. In 2023, the plan is to run a cable under the Laptev Sea and connect Tiksi directly to the worldwide network. Everything is already in place for the arrival of the Internet by the sea—earlier, Arctic Telecom created a communications network inside the settlement that provides the necessary amount of output for users.
The port itself will be expanded and modernised. The ice-breaking part of the Northern Supply will go through it, benefiting from the mouth of the Lena River very close to it, opening the river route to key populated areas; transhipment facilities will be built. There are also plans to build a passenger terminal, reconstruct the old port and build another new, deep-water port.