GCI Expansion in Noatak Means Faster Speeds — and a New Challenge

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

People in the Northwest Arctic community of Noatak and the nearby Red Dog Mine now have access to high-speed internet.

That’s after GCI expanded its internet network over the past several months. There’s now both wired broadband internet and wireless 3G data service at both sites.

It’s been a big help to the people of Noatak, according to Benjamin P. Arnold. He’s an Indian General Assistance Program assistant at the Native Village of Noatak.

“At the Noatak Native Store, we weren’t able to make any phone calls, we weren’t able to do any texting, we weren’t able to get any internet access. However, since the expansion of GCI and the tower, that has improved.”

That tower is one of the last pieces in GCI’s 300-million-dollar TERRA project, which stands for “Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska.” Over the last couple years, the company built overland internet lines for 60 hubs and villages, from Dillingham to Kotzebue.

GCI calls the recent expansion “truly a win-win for Red Dog, GCI and the residents of Noatak.”

Wayne Hall is superintendent for environment and community relations with Teck Alaska, which runs Red Dog Mine. Hall agrees about the positive impact on the mine.

“We’re happy to get faster speeds, which helps not only with the work we do but also for the quality of life of the people that work and live here.”

Noatak’s Benjamin Arnold says you’ve got to be careful with your data usage, though.

“I’ve heard people — parents, children — going over their limit, and they get these astronomical bills: maybe two, three hundred dollars more.”

The Northwest Arctic community is the last place GCI is connecting to TERRA for now.

The telecommunications company says it is currently exploring a subsea fiber-optic project to Unalaska.

Image at top: A GCI TERRA tower in the Northwest Arctic Borough (Photo: Lauren Frost, KNOM).

This story has been updated.