GCI to upgrade wireless speeds across Alaska

The state’s largest wireless internet provider is planning a major boost in service for both urban and rural Alaskans.

A radio sattelite
GCI Antenna. (Sir Mildred Pierce/Flickr Creative Commons)

Currently, Alaska’s fastest internet speeds are in more urban parts of the state, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and the Mat-Su Borough. In those areas, GCI offers 1-gigabit speeds. At that speed, a customer can download a two-hour, high definition movie in less than 30 seconds. 

The next major upgrade to Alaska communities will bring 1-gig speed to Nome and Kotzebue later this year. GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside said the upgrade will bring that part of the state more in line with Anchorage internet speeds.

“[It’s] not just comparable to what people in Anchorage have,” Handyside said. “People in Los Angeles, Chicago there are places outside of Washington D.C., outside of Atlanta — that do not have 1-gig speeds right now.”

Handyside said once the upgrade is complete, Nome and Kotzebue residents can expect prices to lower — closer to what people in Anchorage pay for 1-gig service. 

“I don’t know if it will drop exactly, but it will be close, and they will also get the same speeds and data,” Handyside said. “So yes, customers will see a significant increase in data and speeds, and depending on the plan they choose, and the plan they’re on right now, many will see a decrease, maybe a dramatic decrease in what they pay.”

Nome and Kotzebue aren’t the only rural areas that can expect a boost in service over the next few years. GCI is also moving forward on their AU-Aleutians Fiber Project. Handyside said the project will bring 1-gig internet speeds to Southwest Alaska communities including Unalaska, King Cove, Sand Point and Chignik. 

“It’s an 860-mile subsea fiber,” Handyside said. “And that’s part of the project, but then there’s also building out the fiber in the communities to be able to accommodate those kind of speeds that you’re going to get from the new fiber.”

Part of the project is funded through a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with another $33 million coming from GCI. Handyside anticipates construction to wrap up by early 2023. 

As rural Alaska communities begin to see improved service, the current fastest speeds in Alaska will double to 2-gig speed starting in 2022. Handyside said the upgrade will help keep up with increasing household wireless demands in places like Anchorage and Fairbanks, as well as Southeast Alaska communities connected to fiber optic internet like Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

“The customers who are on GCI’s fiber with 1-gig service will see some of the fastest speeds in the nation,” Handyside said. “Much faster than in the Lower 48.”

Handyside said the upgrades are part of a continuing push to get 10-gig internet speeds in Alaska within the next five years. She said customers who are currently on 1-gig speed plans should not see an increase in the cost of their service with the 2-gig upgrade.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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