GCI touts infrastructure spending to Chamber luncheon

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - 12:11
  • One of only three “stealth” towers in Anchorage, a 65-foot tower seen at center at the top of the hill, installed by GCI last summer is disguised as a spruce tree to fit into Kincaid Park’s 14,000-acre landscape in Anchorage. The tower delivers improved voice and data services to Kincaid Park trails and facilities that offer safety benefits as well. Infrastructure buildouts by the Anchorage telecom were touted by its company spokeswoman at a recent Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Photo/Courtesy/GCI)

As it looks to expand its footprint in Alaska, GCI will continue to spend money on improvements to telecommunications infrastructure statewide.

“It does take a significant investment,” the company’s senior director of corportate communications told the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at its luncehon Jan. 17 in downtown Eagle River.

Heather Handyside said GCI has a $170 million capital budget for 2018, plans $50 million in network upgrades in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau over the next four years, and is currently weighing the pros and cons of expanding its TERRA fiber network stretching across 85 communities in Western Alaska to Unalaska. She said ongoing investment projects such as the expansion of its one gig broaband service, better coverage on the Kenai Peninsula and even the recent addition of a cell tower in Kincaid Park are all ways the company continues to invest in the state.

“We’re going to continue to make those kinds of investments,” she said.

Handyside touted the company’s long committment to Alaska, pointing out that GCI was founded nearly four decades ago by three Alaskans “in a tiny apartment in Bootlegger’s Cove.”

“We have grown up with Alaska,” she said.

Handyside pointed to GCI’s commitment to scholarships for Alaska students, saying the company wants to continue to be a company run by Alaskans.

“We don’t want to go Outside to hire people,” she said.

Handyside said the company has always had a goal of bringing telecommunications to all parts of the state — both urban and rural — despite the challenges of building towers and laying cables in some of the most remote parts of the country.

“We’re willing to take that risk,” said Handyside, who said GCI has invested $3 billion in Alaska since its founding.

She said the company believes the best way to grow its business is to allow Alaskans more opportunities to access its services.

“We’re trying to keep Alaska competitive,” she said. “…when Alaska’s economy is strong, GCI is successful.”

Handyside also defended GCI’s massive TERRA terrestrial broadband project, which she said cost mmore than $300 million. Although the project received federal stimulus funds in the form of a $50 million loan and $50 million grant, Handyside said that money “unleashed more than $250 million in private funding” and created 600 jobs building infrastructure. Without a partnership between the feds and GCI, such a project may have never been feasible.

“We had always been looking for ways to do this,” she said.

Handyside also addressed the company’s stance on “net neutrality” and said a recent decision by the FCC to repeal regulations that prevented service providers from charging for specific content won’t impact how GCI does business because the company has always been committed to providing an “open Internet.”

“We were net neutrality before net neutrality had a name,” she said, and promised the company would remain committed to that position.

“It’s the foundation of our business,” she said.

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