Surveys in full swing for joint BNC-GCI AIRRAQ Network fiber project

Crews expect to make stops in 10 Western Alaska communities in coming months.

Tremendous progress has been made this summer with survey crews hard at work gathering data and other on-the-ground information for the next stage of the AIRRAQ Network fiber project. The AIRRAQ Network, a joint Bethel Native Corporation-GCI project to close the digital divide in 13 Western Alaska communities, is set to begin construction next year.

In September and October, teams from GCI and its contractors, Benthic Geoscience, STG Incorporated and Utility Technologies, Inc., are expecting to make stops in 10 AIRRAQ Network communities. Crews, so far, have completed subsea fiber route surveys and part of the project’s shallow water and riverine route and as-built surveys at some of the current GCI shelter sites, as well as an audit of Bethel’s current telecom infrastructure.

“Surveying, information gathering and planning have been the name of the game for the AIRRAQ Network fiber project in 2023,” said GCI Principal Program Manager Rebecca Markley. “This is a massive lift, and it’s one that’s crucial to the project. Our teams have covered, and continue to cover, a lot of miles on, over and through all types of terrain. From the sea and rivers to wetlands and local communities, we’re gathering all the information necessary to ensure this project can be built efficiently while having as little environmental impact as possible.”

Next up, crews expect to complete aerial photogrammetry surveys through the wetlands and site visits to each cable landing station site to assess the route and access in preparation for next year’s construction for phases one and two of the AIRRAQ Network. In August, GCI was awarded a grant to fund the project’s third phase that will proceed in the coming years.

“Every community connected through the AIRRAQ Network is a big win for rural Alaska,” said BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman. “With the project’s latest expansion into three more Y-K Delta communities, we’re closing the digital divide for more than 11,800 Alaskans. As fiber’s arrival to the region, and the urban level speeds, plans and pricing that comes along with it, looms ever closer on the horizon, that’s a number we hope to continue growing.”

The AIRRAQ Network is a 750-mile fiber-optic network that will deliver affordable 2.5 gig residential internet speeds and unlimited data plans to 13 Western Alaska communities, including: Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak, Oscarville, Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak, Tuntutuliak, Tununak, Toksook Bay and Emmonak. The overall project is supported by more than $100 million in broadband grants awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) and the USDA Rural Development’s ReConnect program, and by private investment by GCI.