Nothing less than the fastest and most reliable Internet connection for the remote communities on the subarctic Aleutian Islands had been promised by the US telecom company GCI some time ago. The company kept these promises after laying 1,300 kilometers of fiber optic cable within a few months last year and beginning to install the technical requirements in every household for reception. Now the promise has been fulfilled and the connection has been established.
In a ceremony attended by numerous representatives from the region, the state and even Washington DC, the commissioning of the fiber optic cable in Unalaska was celebrated. This means that the first of 12 communities in the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak Island will now have the fastest possible communications link with the U.S. mainland. “Building out fiber to Unalaska was an extremely ambitious idea and figuring out how to best connect such a remote island community was a challenge,” GCI President Greg Chapados said in his speech. “Now fiber connectivity has arrived in Unalaska, where residents get the same speed, data and pricing we offer our customers in Anchorage.”
With the commissioning of the line in the westernmost and largest community of the Aleutian Islands, one of the most important steps has now been taken and the promise made by the company last year to put the approximately 1,300 kilometer long fiber optic cable into operation by 2023 has been kept. But the work has only really begun now, as another eleven communities on the island chain still need to get the technical requirements in place in homes and in the towns themselves before the $58 million project will reach completion. That’s just under 7,200 residents in total. But GCI is confident that this can also be achieved in record time. “What strikes me today is the caliber of GCI employees working on this project and others,” says GCI CEO and founder Ron Duncan. “This is a group of talented leaders and problem-solvers who are up to the challenge of connecting a state as vast and as rugged as Alaska.”
For the government in Alaska’s capital, Juneau, the successful implementation of the AU-Aleutian fiber optic project is a milestone in the state’s technological development. This is because it is hoped that this will also create economic incentives for the region and also improve the standard of living of the almost 7,200 inhabitants. “This project bridges the digital gap for thousands of Alaskans. It will provide access to telemedicine, improve education and public safety, and create new jobs,” Governor Mike Dunleavy said at the ceremony. And congratulations on the project also came from Washington DC. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan said, “Everyone came together to work not only on the need, but the opportunity to improve broadband connectivity throughout the region.” The U.S. government was instrumental in funding the project thanks to two grants to improve communications in rural areas and particularly Inuit regions.
The GCi project to connect the Aleutian Islands is one of two major communications projects in Alaska. The second is to connect the western mainland communities all the way to Bethel. The Aleutian Islands and other regions of Alaska have been dependent on satellite connections, which have been much slower and expensive compared to urban Internet connections in Fairbanks and elsewhere. Security considerations may also have played a role in the government’s decision in Washington DC to support the project. After all, the Aleutian Islands and the rest of Alaska are separated from Russia only by the Bering Strait. There, too, the aim was to connect the remote regions along the Northeast Passage with faster lines via a fiber-optic cable, which is also likely to be important for the numerous new military installations in the region. For residents along the island chain, the new pipeline definitely means an important step in he equality with the rest of the U.S. and the world.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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