Making It Real in Rural Alaska

Dan Boyette, VP & General Manager, GCI


The FCC’s newest Commissioner, Brendan Carr, visited Alaska last week to witness firsthand some of the unique challenges associated with bringing broadband to remote communities in the U.S. Arctic.  We appreciate his visit.  Just as a postcard is no substitute for experiencing the rugged splendor of Alaska in person, flying for hours over vast expanses of roadless wilderness illustrates the great distances Alaska’s broadband providers must cover in a way no map ever could.  Relying on a helicopter to get to GCI’s massive TERRA network is a tangible reminder that a fast internet in rural Alaska depends on physical infrastructure built in the most improbable places.  GCI operates wireless antennas on towers hundreds of miles from the nearest road or power line, which is a testament to the hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit of the men and women GCI is fortunate to employ. 

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The people in remote Alaska communities are hungry for a high-quality broadband experience, just like people everywhere.  At the community forum in Unalaska, multiple residents explained to Commissioner Carr how the lack of fast broadband is holding them back.  Businesses want to invest so the local economy will continue to grow and prosper, health clinics are eagerly standing by to deliver improved telemedicine services, and schools await the day they can turn on better distance learning opportunities for their students. 

All this depends on connectivity.  Alaska’s providers are doing what they can, and the Commissioner saw firsthand that the broadband competition in Alaska is scrappy.  But demonstrating the impressive progress GCI and other broadband providers have made deploying networks over the past decade does not help the Alaskans who still stand on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Sustainable economic development depends on regulatory stability, especially in Alaska which faces unique challenges and costs.  We join with other Alaskans in the hope we will see further progress in Washington, D.C. implementing lasting and sustainable policies that will foster faster broadband in rural Alaska communities.