GCI Expands High-Speed Broadband to Norton Sound Villages

In Noorvik, the GCI tower juts up into the morning air. It is silhouetted against blue skies and partial clouds.

Residents of six Norton Sound villages can expect to see high-speed terrestrial broadband coverage from GCI by the end of this year. That’s according to Heather Handyside, senior director of corporate communications at GCI.

The expansion is part of the company’s TERRA project, which stands for “Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska.” In August, GCI completed the TERRA Ring, connecting much of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the Interior to the existing system from Anchorage.

Unalakleet and Shaktoolik are included in that ring and have upgraded service already. Handyside says GCI is now working to optimize the data service on branch lines to White Mountain, Golovin, Elim, Koyuk, Stebbins, and St. Michael before serving residential customers there:

“We send traffic over the system, we look at it during different hours of the day, we calibrate it with the traffic that’s already going through other parts of the TERRA network, and just make sure that there’s essentially adequate capacity at certain times of day, and make sure that all the systems are communicating effectively with each other.”

Handyside says once these procedures are done, community residents should see services with similar cost and speeds to hubs like Nome and Kotzebue, who already have upgraded broadband.

She says several institutional customers, such as schools and clinics, are already being served in the six Norton Sound communities.

For Norton Sound Health Corporation clinics, though, the improvement hasn’t been overwhelming. NSHC public relations specialist Reba Lean says staff in the six upgraded clinics have noticed slightly faster loading times but not much else.

Beyond Norton Sound, Handyside says, several communities on Kotzebue Sound should see upgraded institutional service by the end of the year. Those include schools and clinics in Buckland, Selawik, Noorvik, and Kiana.

Upgraded wireless services should be available in Shishmaref, Teller, Savoonga, Gambell, and Kotlik by the end of the year, as well.

Handyside says GCI has no concrete plans yet for additional expansions:

“Since we’ve completed the ring, it’s really a major milestone that we’ve been working towards for a long time. We have some work to do out towards Red Dog Mine as well, but after that I think we’re going to sit back, assess the system and see where else we need to build out and make a decision in the future.”

Residents in hub communities will get a boost, too, as Quintillion plans to begin selling high-speed data on its undersea fiber-optic cable soon. That service is also expected to be available before the end of the year.

Image at top: A GCI TERRA tower in Noorvik (Photo: KNOM).