Rural Alaska will see expanded telecom services in 2014

Urban and rural telecom expansions will continue in 2014.

In rural Alaska, the General Communications Inc. TERRA-Northwest project is expected to extend faster broadband service from Nome to Kotzebue.

The TERRA service relies on a hybrid of fiber and microwave systems, and produced improved broadband performance in much of Southwest and Northwest Alaska in 2013, with Nome coming online toward the end of the year.

Next, GCI has said it will build out the service farther north, with an eventual eye toward continuing to Prudhoe and creating a full loop. Kotzebue is expected to come online by the end of 2014.

Quintillion, another company working to enhance broadband capabilities in rural Alaska, has said that it will file for Federal Communications Commission approval of its plans in early 2014.

Quintillion, the Alaska-arm of the international Arctic Fibre project, wants to lay submarine fiber optic cable from Asia to Europe, routed along Alaska’s northern coastline with spurs to Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow, Wainwright, Prudhoe Bay, Point Hope and Shemya.

From there, it will be up to local service providers to tap into the service and distribute it to customers.

If approved, work could begin in 2014, although those landing points are not expected to come online until 2015, with the full line working in 2016.

Arctic Fibre filed with Canadian regulators for the cable landing licenses in the Candian Arctic in October, and is now waiting for responses. As of Oct. 23, 2013, it also planned to ask for certain easements in the Canadian arctic from landholders.

GCI also announced plans to enhance internet service in Anchorage to a top speed of 1 gigabit, with work set to begin in 2014. The company will extend the length of its fiber, and reduce the length of coax cable connection to customers, based on customer demand in various neighborhoods. After the Anchorage work begins, similar enhancements could come in other communities.

Wireless changes in the works

Alaska’s wireless landscape is also expected to continue changing in 2014.

Verizon Wireless is expected to begin voice-over-LTE in Alaska this year, after launching LTE data service in 2013.

Once that company launches voice service, it has said it will also begin selling phones and plans in the state. For now, Verizon sells data-only devices.

The data service is currently available in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Fairbanks and Juneau. The voice component is expected to launch in each of those communities at the same time.

For now, the company relies on local providers to provide its customers with voice access in the state.

Verizon will also continue its partnerships with rural telecoms, and those could add additional shakeups to the market. For now, the partners are Copper Valley Telecom, Matanuska Telephone Association, and Ketchikan Public Utilities.

Once Verizon launches voice service over its own LTE network, the Alaska Wireless Network could see a drop in roaming traffic.

GCI and Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. closed on AWN, which merged the two companies’ infrastructure, in July 2013. Each telecom continues to market and sell its own retail products.

The Alaska Wireless Network will also operate for its first full year in 2014, giving both companies a chance to better see how the deal plays out.

ACS has indicated that it will use some of its preferential distributions to pay down its debt in 2014.

GCI-KTUU drama underway

The GCI-KTUU soap opera will likely also continue in 2014.

By Christmas Eve, the two companies had not yet come to an agreement.

But the agreement under which GCI carries KTUU programming in the Anchorage area is set to expire in 2015, so negotiations will likely resume in 2014.

In the fall, GCI stopped transmitting KTUU’s signal to Adak, Akutan, Anaktuvak Pass, Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Galena, Kaktovik, King Salmon, McGrath, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Kuparuk, Nikolski, Nome, North Slope BP, Shemya, Skagway, Tanana, Unalaska, Valdez and Whittier.

The contract dispute revolved around the terms of the agreement for January 2015 and beyond. KTUU had asked for payment for its signal rather than the exchange-of-services the two companies have operated under for the past decade.

GCI has maintained that it needed a new agreement to continue broadcasting past the deadline, while KTUU has said that the two could have operated as-is until 2015.

Then, when another agreement with KTUU, an NBC affiliate, could not be reached, that company’s news programs were no longer carried on the NBC affiliate stations GCI’s subsidiary Denali Media Southeast purchased in Juneau and Sitka.

Now, Denali is seeking approval to buy CBS-affiliates in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan from Evergreen, Colo.-based Ketchikan TB. The company expects to close on that transaction in the second quarter of 2014.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

01/02/2014 - 10:20am