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GCI crews break ground in Unalaska in preparation for Aleutians Fiber Project

Spools of fiber conduit, plus work vehicles for the installation crews, recently arrived in Unalaska.
Spools of fiber conduit, plus work vehicles for the installation crews, recently arrived in Unalaska.

GCI crews began construction in Unalaska Tuesday in preparation to bring fiber optic broadband to the island.

As part of the Aleutians Fiber Project, the Alaska-based telecommunications company plans to lay more than 800 miles of undersea cable from Kodiak Island, through Unimak Pass, to Unalaska. But before bringing the island online, they have to complete trenching in the community to protect and house the fiber optic cable.

By the time groundwork in Unalaska is complete, crews will have buried more than 500,000 feet of conduit on the island, according to the company.

“Now that we have approved permits, our crews will begin trenching along roadsides and easements in the community, placing the conduit as we go,” John Burnett, Senior Program Manager for the Aleutians Fiber Project, said in a statement. “Once the conduit is installed, we’ll be able to pull the fiber optic cable through the duct and branch out directly to homes and other buildings throughout the area in preparation for delivering fiber-based internet service to our customers.”

GCI says it’s mindful that the project is built on Tribal lands and has retained “cultural monitors” to be involved for the duration of the project. The monitors serve as on-site archeologists who are available for consultation if any artifacts or items of historical importance are unearthed.

“As someone who grew up in King Cove, I know how important this project will be for the region,” said Jenifer Nelson, Senior Manager of GCI Rural Affairs. “And while we’re looking forward to the transformational change it will bring, it will be our priority to preserve the long-standing culture and history of the Unangax̂ and Alutiiq Alaska Native people who have called the region home for millennia.”

GCI received final permits for this phase of the Aleutians Fiber Project last month. Overall, the project is expected to cost $58 million. GCI is paying for more than half of that, and the remainder is being funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ReConnect Program which is intended to help boost connectivity in rural areas.

The company says it expects to launch service in Unalaska by the end of next year. From there, crews plan to deliver high-speed service to the communities of King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay and Larsen Bay.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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