Northern Exposure for 1 Gig

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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