Pacific Dataport

Pacific Dataport satellite downlink facility near Talkeetna.


If you live in rural Alaska, and that would include much of the Mat-Su Borough, better Internet and even broadband is coming your way.

In one development, GCI has taken an important step in its plan to build a $53 million subsea fiber-optic cable along the Aleutians, connecting Unalaska, a major fisheries port, along with six small coastal communities, to an existing fiberoptic network at Kodiak.

The key subsea route survey for the cable is now complete, which ensures that its 860-mile route is free of underwater hazards. Construction is set to begin next spring and the system will be operation in late 2022. GCI, a long-time Alaska telecommunications firm, says it has invested more than $3 billion in developing its Alaska network over several years.

King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay, and Larsen Bay, all important fishing communities, will be linked to the system along with Unalaska, the nation’s top seafood port.

These are some of Alaska’s most remote communities and are closer to Russia than to the contiguous U.S.

In Western Alaska, the company has developed a hybrid microwave-fiber network to connect 45,000 Alaskans in 84 communities to broadband service, many for the first time, GCI said.

Meanwhile, satellite operators are busy with new-technology systems that will bring higher quality Internet coverage and high-speed Broadband, which is currently not available, to huge areas of Alaska along with ultra-fast Broadband.

They will connect Alaska communities not connected to terrestrial systems like cable or GCI’s TERRA microwave system, and that are now hostage to slow, high-cost satellite coverage where even that is available.

The first of the new satellite coverage will go live in November at Akiak, a small village in Southwest Alaska, that will be linked to OneWeb’s new polar-orbiting Low Earth Orbit Satellite system and Anchorage-based Pacific Dataport’s station at Talkneetna, in the Mat-Su Borough.

Other rural villages are signing up with the OneWeb, expanding the high-speed Internet and Broadband network next year.

Another company, Starlink, will be launching its own network of polar LEOS satellites, creating more competition in the Alaska market.

In another development, Pacific DataPort is teamed up with Astranis, a satellite maker, to launch a new-technology satellite next spring into a geostationary orbit abut 23,000 miles over Alaska, offering continuous coverage. The company recently announced it will launch its Aurora 4-A satellite in a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket rather than a smaller Falcon 9, which had been previously planned.

The larger rocket will allow the satellite to be placed in its geostationary orbit within days rather than several months, which would have been required with the smaller Falcon 9. Using the Falcon 9 would have required additional steps over several months to lift the satellite to its final orbit. Getting to the proper orbit earlier will allow service to begin months earlier.

“There are more than 100,000 Alaskans who are ready for an affordable broadband connection,” said Chuck Schumann, Pacific Dataport’s CEO. Astranis is helping us bring them modern connectivity. This is a really big deal for Alaska,” he said.

Pacific Dataport also plans to launch a second, larger satellite, dubbed Aurora IV, also to a geostationary orbit over Alaska. The second satellite will be larger and will provide redundancy as a backup to the Aurora 4-A that will be in orbit next year.

The new satellites will be in a more northerly position than satellites currently serving the state, giving it much broader coverage with higher capacity.

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