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.

GCI plans to provide 2 Gbps fibre access to more than a half-dozen Alaskan rural settlements utilising funds from federal broadband grants awarded to two tribal groups.

The first of its two projects will be completed in collaboration with Bethel Native Corporation, which was awarded a $42.4 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program to run fibre to consumers in the Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim communities. GCI plans to run 405 miles of fibre from Dillingham, which is located on the coast just north of where the Aleutian Peninsula juts out into the sea, to Bethel, which is located to the northwest.

According to GCI, the project will take a mainly subsea path from Dillingham to the Kuskokwim River’s mouth of the Kuskokwim River. From there it will go overland 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 collaborating with the Native Village of Port Lions, which was awarded a $29.3 million grant through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity initiative. This project will connect at least 930 unconnected homes in Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Cold Bay, False Pass, Ouzinkie, and Port Lions. GCI stated that the rollout will expand on the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, which includes over 800 miles of subsea and FTTH infrastructure.

“BNC celebrates this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring high-speed internet service to Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak and Oscarville,” said BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman. “Once complete, the fiber project will provide community residents with access to the same internet plans and prices GCI offers to consumers in Anchorage. Fiber’s faster speeds and unlimited data will be transformational. It will improve the quality of life here at home and, ultimately, the broader Y-K Delta.”

“GCI is thrilled to work with BNC to close the digital divide in Bethel and other communities in the Y-K Delta,” said GCI Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Billy Wailand. “The project will leverage the substantial network investment GCI has already made in the Y-K Delta with our own capital and federal grants, and support GCI’s multiyear plan to improve wired and wireless internet service throughout the region.”

The BNC/GCI fibre project will use a submerged path from Dillingham to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, where it will connect with a planned Nushagak Electric & Telephone Cooperative long-haul fibre project, then an overland route to Bethel. GCI will also enhance its Bethel local access network and provide fibre to the home in Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak, and Oscarville.

On Monday, Oct. 10, at 11 a.m., BNC and GCI will have a virtual news conference to share additional details about the project and to reveal the project name. In Alaska, Monday, Oct. 10, is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day to recognise the people who have lived in the state for more than 10,000 years.

GCI has been working on the AU-Aleutians project since 2020 when it was awarded a $25 million federal grant to help cover the $58 million project’s costs. GCI completed the final undersea splice for the AU-Aleutians project in September, bringing the project’s submarine deployment phase to a close. It intends 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.

GCI CEO Greg Chapados highlighted the challenges of implementing network infrastructure in the state in March, adding that the state has a limited window in which to complete building projects each year due to the weather.

In addition to laying fiber in new markets, GCI is trying to update its current HFC network with a mix of high- and mid-splits. It already provides a 2-gig service and plans to provide 10 Gbps during the next few years.