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OptimERA drops internet prices to compete in new era of broadband

Courtesy of OptimERA
Before the arrival of fiber and Starlink, all communications delivered to Unalaska were through antiquated satellites.

Aleutians internet service provider OptimERA significantly lowered its prices for internet in Unalaska earlier this month. That’s following the arrival of high-speed broadband to the island last fall.

“Before, it was say $200 for 20 gigabytes. And now, you can get 200 gigabytes for 95 bucks,” said OptimERA CEO Emmett Fitch, who founded the local company in 2005. “So, I don't know what that is. I would say that's more like a 1,000% decrease in cost.” 

Prior to the price drop, one gigabyte of internet cost $25 in Unalaska. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to streaming about one movie.

Before the advent of fiber and Starlink, all communications delivered to the island were through antiquated satellites. And for most of that time, OptimERA was the primary game in town.

“I think that people were using our service, not because they wanted to, but because we were the only thing that they had,” Fitch said.

But since GCI laid more than 800-miles of fiber-optic cable from Kodiak to Unalaska — a project started three years ago — and Starlink became available locally, Fitch said OptimERA is no longer the fastest service around.

He said the company has had a “significant hit” to its customer base since the dawn of broadband, but wouldn’t specify how much. And because of that, he said, the company needed to adapt.

“I know that some people are commenting and saying that we just voluntarily did this, or this was because of competitive pressure,” Fitch said. “On one hand, they're right, because yes, competition drives these things. But we still had fixed costs, and we were still based on an old system, and so we couldn't compete.”

But he said it wasn’t simply an arbitrary price cut, and that it took a long time for them to gain access to the new, faster capabilities.

“The adaptation has been slow for us, having to effectively wait in line to gain access to the capacities that were there,” Fitch said. “We haven't been able to make any changes because nothing substantial had changed for us, until very recently.”

“We’re literally purchasing from the same groups that we're competing against,” he added.

Now that OptimERA has access to broadband — and the contracts in place to resell that service — Fitch said the local company is able to pass on the price savings to customers.

“Everybody has seen the price drop,” he said. “The price difference between the old communication systems that were providing service in the area versus what we have now — it's night and day difference.”

Fitch said OptimERA plans to lower prices for its phone customers in the near future.

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