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GCI to turn on Unalaska’s high speed fiber internet by the end of the year

Spools of fiber conduit, plus work vehicles for the installation crews, recently arrived in Unalaska.
The company plans to have Unalaskans fully connected and using the new broadband internet sometime in December.

The moment many Unalaskans have been waiting years for is just around the corner: fast and affordable high speed internet has made its way to the island and is about to get booted up.

GCI has been working since the spring of 2020 to bring fiber optic broadband to the region through its AU-Aleutians Fiber project. And now, two and a half years later, the initial cable tests are finished and things are about to “get lit,” according to the telecommunications company.

“What this testing means is that they actually lit the fiber and we are seeing the connectivity in Unalaska right now,” said GCI Rural Affairs Coordinator Jenifer Nelson. “So it’s up. It's lit. It's working.” 

The island is connected to the fiber cables that run near the bottom of the ocean, from Unalaska to Kodiak, Nelson said. All that’s left are some last-mile connections to homes and businesses and final testing.

She said the company plans to have Unalaskans fully connected and using the new wifi sometime in December.

“As soon as we know that it's going to be seamless, we will start rolling it out,” Nelson said. “So I think we'll just say next month for now because we're not really sure. Because if it can be, it might be sooner.”

Unalaskans can expect 2 gigabit speeds, which is about 2,000 times faster than what locals are getting now, through most satellite connections, she said.

Rural Alaska has been far behind in its broadband capabilities for years. But soon, not only will Unalaskans have access to some of the fastest internet speeds in the state, they’ll also have a few options to choose from.

Earlier this fall, Starlink broadband service became available to locals. The new internet provider — a project from Elon Musk’s company SpaceX — uses a low earth orbit satellite constellation to deliver high speed internet connections across the globe.

In locations with a clear view of the sky, Starlink provides internet speeds of about 50 to 100 mbps on the island. That’s much faster than what other providers such as GCI, TelAlaska or local company OptimERA Wifi are currently able to offer.

Starlink’s unlimited monthly service also comes in at lower cost when compared to current local plans. The international broadband provider charges about $30 more for unlimited usage than what most residential OptimERA customers pay for about five gigs of wifi. That doesn’t include Starlink’s initial hardware costs, which come in around $600.

Still, Nelson said GCI’s fiber connection will provide more reliable service than satellites, which she says are more prone to latency during busy times of day. Overall, she said the fiber cable will provide a faster and more dependable connection that is “not prone to sun outages or any kind of impacts from weather that sometimes happens with satellite service.”

The island has 12, 100 gig channels. That means there should be unlimited capacity, better even than what some urban areas like Anchorage get, Nelson said.

“You guys got the shiny new car,” she said. “It's the latest and greatest gold standard of fiber deployment.” 

Unalaskans can expect to pay the same rates as Anchorage users, she said. According to GCI’s website, an unlimited plan with 2-gig speeds runs about $180 a month.

King Cove and Sand Point are the next two communities on the list to be connected through the Aleutians Fiber project. Nelson said the telecommunications company is expecting to have them online by next spring.

She said representatives at the local retail store can help residents with questions about connectivity.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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