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

The moment that many people from Unalaskan have been waiting for years is upon us: fast and affordable high-speed internet has made its way to the island and is about to be launched.

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

“What these tests mean is that they actually lit the fiber and we are now seeing connectivity in Unalaska,” said GCI Rural Affairs Coordinator Jenifer Nelson. ‘So it’s over. It’s lit. It functions.”

The island is connected to the fiber optic 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 Wi-Fi sometime in December.

“Once we know it’s going to be seamless, we’ll 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 possible, it might be sooner.”

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

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

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Earlier this fall, Starlink broadband service became available to locals. The new internet provider – a project of Elon Musk’s company SpaceX – uses a satellite constellation in low Earth orbit to deliver high-speed internet connections around the world.

At locations with a clear view of the sky, Starlink provides internet speeds of approximately 50 to 100 mbps on the island. That’s much faster than what other providers like GCI, TelAlaska or local company OptimERA Wifi can currently offer.

Starlink’s unlimited monthly service is also cheaper compared to current local plans. The international broadband provider charges about $30 more for unlimited use than what most residential OptimERA customers pay for about five gigs of Wi-Fi. That doesn’t include Starlink’s initial hardware cost, which is about $600.

Still, Nelson said GCI’s fiber connection will provide a more reliable service than satellites, which she says are more susceptible to latency during busy times of the day. Overall, she said the fiber optic cable will provide a faster and more reliable connection that is “not susceptible to solar outages or other weather effects that sometimes occur with satellite service.”

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

“You’ve got the shiny new car,” she said. “It is the latest and greatest gold standard for fiber deployment.”

Unalaskans can expect the same rates as Anchorage users, she said. According to the GCI website, an unlimited plan with 2 gig speeds costs about $180 per month.

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King Cove and Sand Point are the next two communities on the list to be connected through the Aleutian Fiber project. Nelson said the telecommunications company expects them to be online in the spring.

She said representatives from the local store can help residents with connectivity questions.

Copyright 2022 KCB. To see more, visit KUCB.

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