Alaska is a state like no other in terms of geographic size, topography, climate and low population density. Many of its communities are isolated and air or sea travel are sometimes the only ways to get to those locales. In this context of physical isolation, the communications infrastructure is especially critical.
As pointed out by Terry Nidiffer, VP Product Management of Alaska telecom operator GCI, this environment presents infrastructure challenges that are somewhat foreign to those of us in the Lower 48. A top-25 MSO with 143,000 basic video subscribers, GCI, has a fairly dense concentration of subscribers in its anchor city of Anchorage. GCI also serves rural locales, including 126 of the smallest 200 Alaskan villages, according to Nidiffer.
Serving these remote areas has required a pragmatic approach to technology and Nidiffer describes how, in the past, virtually every transport technology was used to connect Alaska’s far-flung communities. Satellite back haul was often the only way to connect some of the most remote areas to the Internet. The bandwidth and latency specifications of their satellite back haul solutions were inferior to terrestrial solutions and the resulting real-world, end-user performance was sub-par.
Thus, GCI is aggressively pushing forward and have completed much of a project they call TERRA to bring more reliable and faster broadband by eliminating satellite connections and using a combination of microwave and fiber to reach underserved areas. In the above interview, Nidiffer explains how GCI’s wholly owned subsidiary, United Utilities, completed its $88 million RUS grant/loan stimulus project a year ahead of schedule.
The end customers are seeing the benefits of high-definition telehealth applications, which are speeding diagnoses and improving the quality of health-care delivery through the electronic transport of health records and the sharing of expertise between urban and rural areas. Nidiffer suggests that education is being improved, as, for instance, multiple communities can now share a teacher through the two-way video enabled by this new network.
He also points out that local businesses have been an early beneficiary of the higher-speed, lower latency and more reliable bandwidth. They are finding that the improvements in the broadband connections are opening global opportunities for businesses that would otherwise be shut out of the modern Internet economy.
Click here to see an interesting video providing an overview of the GCI TERRA Northwest project.
2012 ACA Summit coverage brought to you by the ACA and ViodiTV.