GCI awarded $25 million federal grant to bring urban internet speeds to remote, underserved Aleutian communities

October 14, 2020

Massive subsea fiber project will be gamechanger for consumers, fishing and transportation industries, schools, and clinics

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—GCI announced it has been awarded a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program in support of GCI’s Alaska United -Aleutians Fiber Project, which will provide terrestrial broadband service for the first time to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and five other communities – King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay, and Larsen Bay. 

Subject to permitting and other contingencies, the project, including a new long-haul subsea fiber system, is expected to be substantially complete and in service by the end of 2022.  The total cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $58 million.  GCI will invest $33 million of its own capital to pay for project costs not covered by the ReConnect grant. 

The AU-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.  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.  In the other five communities served by the project, GCI will deploy fixed wireless networks capable of providing 100 Mbps symmetric speeds.

“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 Ron Duncan, GCI’s CEO.  “Fiber service, the gold standard of broadband connectivity, will enable Unalaska, the nation’s largest fishing port and a gateway to the American Arctic, and the other project communities to realize their full economic potential while advancing the national security interests of the United States.” 

“The project will close the digital divide between Unalaska and urban Alaska and substantially narrow the divide for the other five served communities,” Duncan continued.  “GCI is grateful for the support our ReConnect application received from the Alaska Congressional Delegation, particularly Senator Dan Sullivan, who has a been a tireless proponent of fiber service to the region. We’d also like to thank Governor Dunleavy; state Senator Lyman Hoffman and Representative Bryce Edgmon; and local organizations and community leaders for their support.  We deeply appreciate the ReConnect program’s recognition of the economic and strategic importance of the Aleutians.”

“Gaining access to high-speed internet connectivity can be life-changing, especially for residents in rural Alaska where communication resources and infrastructure are most scarce,” said Senator Sullivan. “We are making strides in breaking down the digital divide and serving Alaskans who, for too long, have been without a utility that so many of us take for granted. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’m honored to have helped secure this substantial USDA grant to boost GCI’s Aleutian Fiber Project and to have worked to finally bring reliable, high-speed internet connectivity to Unalaska and a number of other communities throughout Southwest Alaska.”

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.  These include automated business processes like payroll and inventory, video conferencing, and telemedicine and education applications.  The project will also enable GCI to introduce new services like streaming IP cable 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. 

“For decades, GCI has pioneered innovative connectivity solutions for rural Alaska,” Chapados continued.  “TERRA, our hybrid fiber-microwave network, provides access to terrestrial broadband service to 45,000 Alaskans in 84 communities in western Alaska.  GCI is currently developing a comprehensive plan for the next evolution of data communications in rural Alaska.  AU-Aleutians is part of that plan.”

GCI’s ReConnect application, which was submitted in April 2020, 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. “Bringing terrestrial broadband to the Aleutians has been a longtime company goal, and GCI was competing with proposed projects across the nation to secure the grant.  We couldn’t have done it without the support of the region and are thrilled to be moving to the next phase of the project. Our teams can’t wait to get started.”

“This is a really big deal for us – we fully support GCI and AU-Aleutians,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin Osterback. “GCI knows connectivity is crucial and that’s why they are making this investment in our area with the help of the USDA.  Whether you’re a fisherman, a business owner, or a resident, faster data speeds will improve everyday life.  GCI has worked closely with the Aleutians East Borough throughout the planning process.”

About GCI

GCI provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer, business, government, and carrier customers throughout Alaska, serving more than 200 communities.  The company has invested substantially more than $3 billion in its Alaska network and facilities.  Most recently, GCI launched true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage, now the nation’s northernmost 5G service area.

Headquartered in Alaska, GCI has delivered services for more than 40 years to some of the most remote communities and in some of the most challenging conditions in North America. GCI employs nearly 2,000 Alaskans.  Learn more about GCI at http://www.gci.com.  GCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of GCI Liberty, Inc. (Nasdaq: GLIBA, GLIBP).  Learn more about GCI Liberty at http://www.gciliberty.com.

Media contact:

Heather Handyside, GCI

907-301-3481; hhandyside@gci.com