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GCI announces planned leap in Internet speed

Upcoming boost will introduce state's first gigabit Internet service

Posted: December 20, 2013 - 12:03am

ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s largest telecommunications company plans to provide Internet speeds in Anchorage that are so fast residential customers will be able to download a high-definition movie in 18 seconds, instead of the 30-minute U.S. average, the company’s top official said Thursday.

“It doesn’t even leave you time to make popcorn,” General Communication Inc. President and CEO Ron Duncan said at a news conference where he announced the venture. Duncan said the investment is expected to total well over $100 million.

The upcoming boost dubbed “fiber re:D” will introduce Alaska’s first gigabit Internet service, according to GCI. Speeds will be increased incrementally, with the full speed slated for completion by 2015.

“Why are we doing this?” Duncan said. “We’re embarking on this initiative because we believe, as we always have, enabling cutting edge world-class conductivity between Alaskans and the rest of the world is good for Alaskans and for our economy.”

According to GCI, about a dozen cities in the nation have that kind of residential gigabit service, which is about 100 times faster than a typical 10-megabit-per-second broadband connection.

Fewer than 1,000 consumers with GCI service currently have its precursor, the premier package known as “re:D.” The service’s download speed was doubled Thursday to 100 Mbps and the price reduced by $25, Duncan said.

The planned increase to 1 gigabit per second will be implemented first in neighborhoods where demand is the greatest. GCI is asking consumers to go to its website to share their interest in getting the new service.

Duncan said the company envisions spreading to other communities in the state’s road system, depending on what kind of response it gets. But there are no definite expansion plans so far.

Rural areas off the road system remain a huge challenge. GCI replaced satellite service in those areas with a faster microwave network just a few years ago. Duncan said fiber was considered but there were too many barriers such as logistics, permitting and maintenance. With microwave, problems can down a system for a day, but crews can always get to the sites that need repair, Duncan said.

“If fiber breaks going underneath a river in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness in the winter, that system could be out for weeks or months,” he said. “And you can’t deliver the reliability that you need when you’ve got to cut across hundreds of miles of frozen tundra in the middle of nowhere with a fiber system, which is why we were driven to microwave.”

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