GCI to Expand Network in Western Alaska

A TERRA network radio tower. (Photo via GCI)
A TERRA network radio tower. (Photo via GCI)

GCI recently announced plans to complete its TERRA network in rural Alaska by 2017. The expansion would offer a better and more reliable Internet connection throughout the YK Delta and much of Western Alaska.

General Communications Inc., more commonly known as GCI, announced its plan this week during the Association of Village Council Presidents’ 51st Annual Convention.

GCI’s Vice President of Corporate Services David Morris says it’s a plan the company has had for a while. He refers to it as “completing the ring.”

“The TERRA network is not a ring (yet), it’s what we call single thread,” said Morris, “When it becomes a ring, that traffic can automatically be rerouting in the opposite direction in the event of an outage,” said Morris.

The TERRA network is a crucial system of ground-based radio towers spread throughout Western Alaska communities from Nome to Illiamna.  The towers relay phone service, wireless data and Internet services.

Right now if one of the towers is goes off-line the entire network stops working.

This was the case in late September when a microwave radio near Illiamna became damaged leaving nearly 18,000 residents without Internet or phone.

Morris says while Bethel may experience distribution outages, the outage that occurred was extremely abnormal.

“We believe this was due to software issues,” said Morris. “We don’t like outages at all. Where these outages occur, they’re on top of mountain tops, and they’re easy to get to in the first place.”

An expanded TERRA network would make connectivity more secure. If another radio tower is damaged it won’t take out the whole system.

Morris says the expansion will cost GCI an estimated $250 million but will not affect consumer prices.

The expansion will allow larger organizations, like schools and health providers, to develop and utilize services that require more reliability.