A call for expressions of interest in providing broadband to the US research station at the South Pole has attracted more than a dozen responses.
Gordon Hamilton, a professor at the University of Maine, who is involved with the project, says a request for information which closed in September sparked "about 15 industry responses", some from joint ventures and some from consulting companies.
Hamilton won't say who they are, "but some of the big players in satellite and fibre communications are amongst the respondents".
A range of options were proposed, he says, "from a fibre-optic cable to a satellite solution".
The US National Science Foundation is prepared pay $US250 million to get always-on net access at 512kbit/s to the pole.
Voice at 128kbit/s when required is another must-have as is the ability to handle summer season imaging and weather monitoring applications that need 256kbit/s. Video-conferencing and telemedicine capabilities are also wanted.
The NSF estimates that by 2009, the intended completion date if the project goes ahead, the South Pole station may be generating 30Gb of data a day.
Hamilton says of the 15 or so respondents, "about five or six are detailed, serious contenders".
The next step is to "review the responses, ask the vendors to respond to follow-up questions then move to making a decision on feasibility by mid-December".
Raytheon Polar Services, the company running the vendor selection process on behalf of the NSF, says existing internet links to the research station consist of "ageing satellites in deteriorating geosynchronous orbits" and that the satellites' age "makes them less than reliable".
Any cable laid would have to go across moving ice and link up with satellites 1700km north at Concordia, a French-Italian research station, from which data and images can be reliably sent to the US.