GCI is preparing to install a fiber optic cable network in Deering and Kivalina to bring high-speed internet to residential homes and businesses in the upcoming years.
“Once the project is complete, residential customers will have access to 2.5 gig internet speeds, unlimited data, and the same plans and pricing as GCI customers in Anchorage,” the GCI officials said in the press release.
The company hosted community meetings in both Kivalina and Deering to give residents an overview of the project and describe the advantages the fiber-optic service can bring such as faster speeds and cheaper plans, said GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside.
Kivalina resident Enoch Adams didn’t attend the community meeting but expressed support for the project, saying that the internet in the village now can be slow and unreliable.
“I think it would be good,” Enoch Adams said about the fiber project. “it will be faster, it will be hopefully cheaper.”
The project started this August when the company started connecting Kivalina and Deering to the existing fiber-optic infrastructure in Kotzebue. More than 170 miles of subsea fiber required for the project was successfully deployed and is currently in place, Handyside said.
“Shelter structures, which serve as the connection point between the subsea fiber and local network infrastructure, have been installed in both communities,” said GCI Principal Program Manager Rebecca Markley. “Once crews complete electrical work at both shelter locations, GCI teams will begin installing network equipment in preparation for next year’s local buildouts in Kivalina and Deering.”
GCI said they plan to start installing fiber to homes and businesses in 2024.
In Kivalina, severe storms frequent the community every year. Handyside said that while fiber can be affected by extreme environmental conditions, those situations are very rare, and common storms are unlikely to disrupt fiber-optic service.
Earlier this year, a subsea fiber network run by Quintillion up in the Beaufort Sea was severed by ice movement, cutting cell and internet services in a multitude of communities.
“I’m worried about the ice and lines cut off like in Barrow this past year and Point Hope,” Adams said. “If they able to address that I don’t have concerns.”
Handyside said that when GCI deploys subsea fiber, the company uses special armoring of the cable and sea floor trenching to put it as deep as possible. Still, incidents can happen, and to mitigate the risk, the company ensures backup networks — such as satellite services in the cases of Kivalina and Deering.
“Incidents like this past summer’s fiber cut are a stark reminder of the importance of provider investment in diverse telecommunications networks,” Handyside said. “While fiber is the best, fastest and most reliable technology to deliver broadband, it’s just as important to invest in backup systems and redundancy.”
Besides the Deering-Kivalina Fiber Project, GCI is working to bring fiber optic to Unalaska and 12 Aleutian, Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island communities, the company said. GCI also partners with the Bethel Native Corporation to deliver urban-level connectivity to 13 Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities.
“Our project teams throughout the state are going all out in their effort to help close the digital divide in rural Alaska,” Handyside said in a statement.