GCI plans wireless upgrades across Alaska, including faster speeds for rural communities

A GCI van parked in Kotzebue. (Wesley Early/KOTZ)

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

Currently, the fastest internet speeds in Alaska are in the more urban parts of the state, like 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 be bringing that 1-gig speed to Nome and Kotzebue later this year. GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside says the upgrade will bring that part of the state more in line with Anchorage internet speeds.

“And 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 to 1-gig speeds right now.”

Handyside says once the upgrade is complete, Nome and Kotzebue residents can expect prices to lower and be closer to what people in Anchorage pay for their 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 internet service over the next few years. GCI is also moving forward on their AU-Aleutians Fiber Project. Handyside says this project will bring 1-gig internet speeds to Southwest Alaska communities like Unalaska, King Cove, Sand Point and Chignik Bay.

“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 the 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 says 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 says the upgrades are part of a continuing push to get 10-gig internet speeds in Alaska within the next five years. She says 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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