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Northern Exposure for 1 Gig

Alan Breznick
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Who says 1 Gbit/s service can't be offered close to the Arctic Circle?

Not General Communication Inc. (GCI) (Nasdaq: GNCMA), which plans to launch Alaska's first gigabit broadband service over fiber lines in the Anchorage area by the beginning of 2015. GCI announced plans for the new "fiber re:D" service late last week while also doubling its current top broadband speeds to 100 Mbit/s and cutting the price of that service.

Thus, GCI, the largest cable and telecom provider in Alaska with 118,000 basic video and nearly 115,000 cable modem subscribers, will join Google Fiber Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), and smaller service providers in a few dozen US markets in offering 1 Gbit/s service in a year's time. But Anchorage will undoubtedly be the northernmost, and coldest, market to boast such blazing-fast service.

GCI President and CEO Ron Duncan said his company is making the 1 Gig move to meet the "national challenge" that former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski issued to US service providers and cities earlier this year. In a speech to the US Conference of Mayors last January, Genachowski urged broadband providers and local communities to meet what he called the "Gigabit City Challenge" by launching 1 Gbit/s in at least one community in all 50 states by the start of 2015. (See FCC Chair Issues 'Gigabit City Challenge' and FCC Prods More Cities to Go Big With 1-Gig.)

Taking a page out of Google Fiber's book, GCI intends to roll out the fiber-powered service first in neighborhoods that show the most interest. On its Web site, the Alaskan provider offers a form to encourage Anchorage residents to sign up for the service and spread the word to their neighbors, as well as a map showing how it will divvy up the market.

"Recruit your neighbors," GCI urges Anchorage consumers on its Web site. "Tell them to get fibered. The neighborhood with the most applicants will win the race to get fibered."

GCI does not say how much it plans to charge for the new 1 Gig service. In Kansas City, Google Fiber has set the bar for that service at $70 a month, prompting other service providers to try to match that relatively low price.

In the meantime, GCI is boosting the maximum downstream speeds for its cable modem service, re:D, to 100 Mbit/s in the greater Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau area, while reducing the price for that top tier by $25 a month, or 12.5%. The company said the speed bump "is the first of a series of free re:D speed increases" that it plans to implement.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
12/24/2013 | 11:17:23 AM
Re: Fiber to the press release
Once you make the decision to install fiber, the data rate up to and including 1Gb/s is essentially the same cost.

The reason is that people pay for the "clock" rate of the access interface.  What is not covered is the amount of oversubscription in the network.  The points of oversubscription and the concentration ratios at these interfaces is also not exposed.

What may not be obvious but copper and coax are more expensive at low densities if you were going to install new plant.  The reach of fiber means that the outside plant can be completely passive over very long distances, where coax and copper require active electronics to amplify/convert signals.  These are very problematic in harsh weather condition areas (see Alaska).

User Rank: Light Sabre
12/24/2013 | 9:10:09 AM
Fiber to the press release
Keep in mind it costs very little to insist some users will see 1 Gbps sometime in 2015, in the process offering absolutely no details or specifics on the build out (the press release is pretty empty). It's becoming industry standard practice in the wake of Google Fiber to issue fiber to the press release, even if all you're really talking about is 1 Gbps to a handful of developments where most of the fiber is already in teh ground. GCI (as well as others like AT&T and CenturyLink) claim that a website form results in a democratic process dictating build outs (like Google Fiberhoods), but I'd not be surprised if user input actually makes no difference at all in where these services get deployed.

GCI is also historically very meter and cap oriented, I'll be curious to see if the 1 Gbps service, if and when it arrives, comes with any usage restrictions.
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/24/2013 | 3:33:06 AM
But how do they keep the lights on?  With revenues of $25-100 a sub in a mid to low density area, without funding I wonder if it's sustainable.  I'm not saying it's not a good thing, propagating technology to all areas of the country, but it raises a key issue why fiber is not being built faster, even if many agree it is the future.
User Rank: Blogger
12/23/2013 | 8:15:40 PM
Yes, they are a pretty aggressive crew. Guess they've got to keep moving up there to stay warm. They're also big players in wireless and just bought 3 Alaska broadcast TV stations (all CBS affiliates, I think. They're a regular northern powerhouse. 
User Rank: Blogger
12/23/2013 | 5:15:27 PM
GCI was also the first carrier in North America to use the Pace gateway integrated with TiVo--sounds like they are being pretty aggressive in the type of regional market that the big carriers tend to ignore.
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