Geo-referenced drone photography was used to identify promising locations
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – With the announcement of the Airraq Network (pronounced EYE-huk) fresh in their memories, survey crews have begun plotting the route for the joint Bethel Native Corporation (BNC)-GCI broadband fiber project. With Alaska’s short construction season, every second counts, especially when launching such a large, ambitious project.
The survey crews are led by GCI Principal Engineer of Telecommunications Delivery Bruce Rein, who’s only weeks removed from completing the subsea fiber deployment for GCI’s AU-Aleutians Fiber Network. Rein says the team took a brisk ride from Eek in an open-topped skiff to the planned landing point an hour away.
“We wasted no time to beat the onset of winter freeze-up, moving quickly from one iconic project to another,” Rein said. “We found a perfect spot. There’s lots of engineering to do, but for now it looks like the most efficient route is to lay fiber up a river channel then go ashore and follow a winter trail over wetlands to Eek – and then on to Bethel.”
The crew spent more than five hours at the remote area locating a suitable site, placing survey monuments and setting a tide level monitor in the river. Project contractor Benthic Geoscience conducted an initial feasibility survey to capture likely landing sites using geo-referenced drone photography.
The Airraq Network is a 405-mile fiber-optic network that will deliver affordable, 2 gig residential internet speeds and unlimited data plans to more than 10,000 people in 10 Western Alaska communities, including: Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak, Oscarville, Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak, and Tuntutuliak.
“It is happening! The work to bring urban-level connectivity is underway and it’s good to see how quickly this project has ramped up,” said BNC President & CEO Ana Hoffman. “There is a lot of excitement here. The people of the Y-K Delta are looking forward to having more affordable, reliable connectivity in Western Alaska and we are glad to work with an experienced partner like GCI to close the digital divide for many in the region.”
The project was announced on October 10, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and it’s no coincidence that on-the-ground work has already begun.
“Before the grant was even announced, GCI spent months on project planning, permitting, compliance, and project design so we were ready to hit the ground running,” said GCI Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Billy Wailand. “The Airraq Network is a big, complex project requiring coordination among Tribal, local, state, and federal stakeholders. We are looking forward to working alongside BNC, as the grant recipient and our close partner, to successfully deploy this infrastructure and bring GCI’s 2 gig internet to 10 new communities in the region.”
The Airraq Network is funded by $73 million in broadband grants recently awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) ReConnect program.
The Bethel Native Corporation has been awarded a $42 million grant from the NTIA to build a fiber network to Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak, and Oscarville.
- The 405-mile network will start in Dillingham, follow a submarine route to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, and then transition to an overland route to Bethel.
- As BNC’s subgrantee partner, GCI will construct and operate the fiber network.
- GCI will upgrade its existing cable plant in Bethel and deploy fiber-to-the-premises local access networks in the four other communities.
- Consumers in these communities will have access to 2 gig consumer broadband service plans that include unlimited data and affordable prices. Customers who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program will be eligible for free internet service.
- The service is scheduled to launch in Bethel at the end of 2024.
- The Bethel fiber project will connect in Dillingham to another NTIA-funded fiber project to be constructed by Nushagak Electric & Telephone Cooperative, which, in turn, connects to a GCI fiber to Anchorage constructed with support from the USDA RUS. By leveraging other federal investment, BNC and GCI are using every NTIA Bethel grant dollar in the most efficient way possible.
GCI has been awarded a $31 million USDA RUS ReConnect grant to construct long-haul fiber to and local fiber in the Y-K Delta communities of Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak, and Tuntutuliak.
- GCI will construct and operate the fiber and will deploy fiber-to-the-premises local access networks in the five communities.
- Consumers in these communities will receive 2 gig consumer broadband service plans that include access to unlimited data and affordable prices. Customers who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program will be eligible for free internet service.
- This project will connect to the Bethel fiber, leveraging federal dollars in an efficient way.
Bethel Native Corporation is respected as a business leader with offices in Bethel, Anchorage and the Lower 48. Bethel’s companies engage in many diverse lines of business including government contracting, construction, logistical support, environmental remediation and commercial real estate. Learn more about BNC at https://bethelnativecorp.org.
Headquartered in Alaska, GCI provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer, business, government, and carrier customers throughout Alaska, serving more than 200 communities. The company has invested more than $4 billion in its Alaska network and facilities over the past 40 years and recently launched true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage, now the nation’s northernmost 5G service area. Learn more about GCI at www.gci.com. GCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Broadband Corporation (Nasdaq: LBRDA, LBRDK, LBRDP). Learn more about Liberty Broadband at http://www.libertybroadband.com.