GCI tapped for tribal broadband projects fueled by $71M in grants

GCI is set to deliver 2 Gbps fiber service to more than half a dozen remote communities in Alaska using money from federal broadband grants awarded to two tribal entities.

The first of its two projects will be completed in partnership with Bethel Native Corporation, which won a $42.4 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to run fiber to consumers in the communities of Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim. GCI will run 405 miles of fiber from Dillingham, which sits on the coast just north of where the Aleutian Peninsula juts out into the ocean, up to Bethel to the northwest.

GCI said the project will follow a mostly sub-sea route from Dillingham to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. From there it will go over land the rest of the way to Bethel. As part of its work, the operator will also install fiber-to-the-home in the towns of Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak and Oscarville, which sit along the planned route.

The operator is also undertaking work with the Native Village of Port Lions, which received a $29.3 million grant from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program. That project will bring fiber to at least 930 unserved households in Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Cold Bay, False Pass, Ouzinkie and Port Lions. GCI said the deployment will build upon its AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, which consists of more than 800 miles of subsea and FTTH cabling.

GCI has been working on the AU-Aleutians project since 2020, when it won a $25 million federal grant to help it cover the project’s $58 million price tag. In September, GCI made the final subsea splice for the AU-Aleutians project, marking the end of its submarine deployment phase. It plans to spend the next two years installing FTTH in six communities, covering Unalaska and Akutan by the end of 2022, Sand Point and King Cove by the end of 2023, and Chignik Bay and Larsen Bay in late 2024. The timeline for the addition of the communities covered by the Port Lions project is unclear.

In March, GCI executive Greg Chapados highlighted the difficulties of deploying network infrastructure in the state, noting the weather there means it only has a short window in which to complete construction projects each year.

Beyond running fiber in greenfield markets, GCI is also working to upgrade its existing HFC network using a mix of high- and mid-splits. It already offers a 2-gig service and is aiming to deliver 10 Gbps within the next few years.