GCI to expand internet service in rural Alaska

Telecommunications provider GCI said it aims to further access to high-speed internet in Western Alaska in the near future. By the end of 2016, the company said, their TERRA network will expand to ten more communities in Norton Sound and the Northwest Arctic Borough.

GCI TERRA Network 2016-2017 Construction Map. (Image courtesy of GCI)
GCI TERRA Network 2016-2017 Construction Map. (Image courtesy of GCI)

TERRA is an acronym for “Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska.” GCI’s fiber-optic and microwave network project started in 2010 and currently services 72 communities, extending from Southwest Alaska through Kotzebue. The towers and antennas will connect ten more local communities to what’s referred to as the “backbone” of TERRA, eventually linking back to Anchorage.

Heather Handyside is with GCI. She said the best way to describe this expansion is “the ability to do video conferencing and rich streaming of data.”

GCI said it will focus first on working with local schools and hospitals, with the stated goal of allowing greater access for students and providing more opportunities for training and connection to medical specialists in larger hubs like Nome and further south to Anchorage.

“There will be no delays,” Handyside said. “There will be vivid, vibrant colors, and it will be immediate, interactive sharing of data and information back and forth between people, such as someone in a community like White Mountain and a doctor in an emergency room in Anchorage. It will be seamless and it will be immediate.”

Handyside said contracts with GCI will vary per hospital and school, but there will not be any caps to the streaming capacity. As far as personal streaming for consumers – that’s something that will happen in the near future. “The good news is this is really the first step. Once we have these anchor tenants in place, we can use the same infrastructure to deliver services to consumers and businesses in the area.”

Work has already begun in Koyuk for a tower and its foundation. Handyside said technicians have also been working in Golovin and Elim to add additional antennas on nearby towers.

Ericsson technology will continue to partner with GCI to provide this new TERRA-network expansion. In addition to Koyuk, Golovin, and Elim, the communities of Buckland, Kiana, Noorvik, Selawik, White Mountain, Stebbins, and St. Michael are said to be receiving GCI’s high-speed internet access by the end of the year.