Challenges and Triumphs in Bringing Broadband Technology to Rural Alaska

APA Alaska Chapter


Monday, November 16, 2015, 1:45 p.m.
Monday, November 23, 2015, 3:15 p.m. AKST

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GCI’s TERRA project is a next-generation communications network for the remote and rural areas of Alaska. Started in 2011, the project today provides 72 villages with access to terrestrial broadband. GCI is currently expanding the network into the northwest Arctic and along the Yukon River, with plans to build out to additional villages in the future.

Remote regions of Alaska historically receive their communications services (e.g. phone, television, and Internet) over high-cost and high-latency satellite connections. GCI envisioned the creation of TERRA to provide equitable access to low-latency broadband service for these areas. TERRA is a hybrid terrestrial fiber-optic and microwave network that removes the limitations of satellite and provides symmetrical broadband service to Alaska’s remote and rural regions. With a direct land-based connection to Anchorage and the Internet, the TERRA network delivers critical bandwidth to numerous public, nonprofit, and private entities such as regional health corporations, school districts, native organizations, and residents.

GCI’s tribal mobility project is an effort to deploy 3G and 4G wireless services in rural communities across the state of Alaska. The project is supported by the Federal Communications Commission’s Tribal Mobility Fund Phase I, which endeavors to support construction of 3G and 4G mobile broadband networks and underserved tribal communities.


The build-out of the TERRA and tribal mobility projects offers an instructive case-study in the planning challenges inherent in telecommunications projects for communities in rural Alaska. Through this lens, representatives of GCI will walk participants through the general planning challenges inherent in bringing improved telecommunications access to rural communities in Alaska, including (1) interaction between federal, state, and local regulations governing

telecommunications equipment; (2) evolving local ordinances addressing telecommunications equipment construction and modification; (3) geographic challenges; and (4) practical challenges to citing equipment in a manner which matches community growth plans.

The objective of this training will be for planners in rural areas to emerge with an enhanced understanding of the general planning considerations inherent in the construction of telecommunications infrastructure and the specific challenges which providers and planning authorities must work together to address in rural Alaska.

GCI is the largest Alaska-based and operated integrated telecommunications provider offering voice, data and video services statewide.

Session Concept:

An environmental specialist, land use attorney, and project manager from GCI hope to join a NEPA specialist from a Federal agency as well as a City Planner to discuss elements of the TERRA and Tribal Mobility projects and the FCC, FAA, and local land use regulations that govern.

We will spend half of the session in a lecture format and the second half will allow for the audience to ask questions of the panel.




Kim Wetzel

Invited Speaker

Kim Wetzel is a planner with URS with more than 10 years of planning experience. She serves on Anchorage's Historic Preservation Commission. Read More