Anchorage, Alaska — Aleutian Islands. Subsea fiber. Alaska Peninsula. Unalaska.
These words and places may not be familiar to most, but they are part of the daily lexicon at GCI, ACA Connects’ Alaska-based member that announced a new initiative to pioneer broadband deployment in rural Alaska.
After four years of planning, preparation and perseverance, GCI is moving forward with plans to provide 21st-century technology to one of the nation’s most remote locations: Unalaska and five other communities — King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay and Larsen Bay – along the Aleutian peninsula.
The word “remote” does not adequately describe the scope of the islands — which form part of the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821 square miles and extending about 1,200 miles westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and marking a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south.
To the “lower 48” this is remote, but to GCI, it’s just home.
Equipped with a new $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, GCI will invest $33 million of its own capital to pay project deployment costs. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $58 million.
The project, which includes a new long-haul subsea fiber system, is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2022.
The Alaska United-Aleutians Fiber Project has two major components:
- Subsea Fiber-Optic System: GCI will deploy a subsea fiber system approximately 800 miles in length, running from Kodiak along the south side of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians to Unalaska, a gateway to the American Arctic. The system is designed for resiliency in subsea Arctic conditions and expected to operate for more than 25 years.
- Local Access Network Improvements: In Unalaska, GCI will deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect homes and businesses throughout the community. This will be the most advanced wireline local access network in Alaska and will enable GCI to provide the same lightning-fast, 1 Gig Internet speeds enjoyed by GCI’s consumer customers in Anchorage and other fiber-served communities.
“The AU-Aleutians Fiber Project is yet another example of GCI’s willingness to invest in rural Alaska when other companies are unable or unwilling to do so,” said GCI CEO and Founder Ron Duncan. “Fiber service, the gold standard of broadband connectivity, will enable Unalaska, the nation’s largest fishing port, and the other project communities to realize their full economic potential while advancing the national security interests of the United States.”
The AU-Aleutians Fiber Project will dramatically improve the delivery of a wide range of services of critical importance to business, government, education, and healthcare.
Small businesses will benefit from automated business processes such as payroll and inventory, while new products such as video conferencing, telemedicine and education applications will be offered.
The project will also enable GCI to introduce new services like streaming IP video and improve existing services like mobile wireless.
“The project will provide a data connectivity solution to Unalaska and the other served communities that is significantly faster than any satellite solution, including the low earth orbit (LEO) satellites currently in deployment,” said Greg Chapados, GCI’s President and Chief Operating Officer.
GCI’s ReConnect application was buoyed by a flood of support from business owners, fishing permit holders, tribal organizations, and community leaders throughout the region.
“We are grateful for our community partners who lent their support to help make the ReConnect grant a reality,” said Jenifer Nelson, GCI’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement.
Unalaska Mayor Vincent M. Tutiakoff Sr. thanked GCI and saluted the hard work put in by many city council members and city managers who were involved in the oversight of the project.
“Our city of Unalaska, 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, is home to the international port of Dutch Harbor, the largest commercial fishing port in the nation. This port is vital not only for commerce, but also for the military in the future,” Mayor Tutiakoff said. “Bridging this digital divide will allow our community and industry partners to expand and work more efficiently and effectively. Faster and more reliable Internet speeds will allow our public schools to meet needs of students, especially in this time of COVID-19.”
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, joined in his thanks to the GCI team, noting that he has represented most of the Aleutian communities involved in the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project for more than a decade.
“This project has been a gleam in the eye for many years. When you look at all the impact a high-speed fiber line can have in the community, it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s everything from improving quality of life to attracting local talent in government and non-government jobs, and it’s going to improve the competitive dollars that we get for our school system,” Rep. Edgmon said.
ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka, commenting on the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, said it is an honor to work with ACA Connects members like GCI as they design, build and invest in broadband platforms — a known game changer for small and medium sized cities.
“ACA Connects members like GCI continue to invest in people and technology that transform rural America. With this commitment to broadband connectivity in the Aleutians, GCI will open communities to new opportunities, including global commerce, expanded education, healthcare choices and vibrant resources for small businesses,” Polka said.