While many recipients of stimulus cash distributed last year have either given it back or continue to build out their broadband projects, last week, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) hosted the first live terrestrial videoconference between Juneau and Bethel’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) using General Communication Inc.’s (GCI’s) TERRA-Southwest, a $88 million terrestrial broadband "middle mile" project constructed by GCI’s wholly owned subsidiary United Utilities Inc.

The project was financed with federal broadband stimulus funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

GCI is an Alaska-based integrated communications provider and the second largest wireless provider in Alaska. Services include local and long-distance telephony, wireless, video, Internet and data communications throughout the state.

Moving forward, the YKHC is working with GCI through an initial test phase that could last for the next two weeks. Broadband connectivity will be fully available for residential and commercial customers after testing.

Speaking with Gov. Parnell on the historic video call was Gene Peltola, president/CEO at YKHC, who said, "Getting Southwest Alaska off satellite and onto TERRA-SW is a major accomplishment for GCI and its subsidiaries. YKHC will be one of the largest beneficiaries of this new network. It will allow us to continue expanding the use of telehealth applications including video conferencing with doctors, teleradiology, telepsychology, implementing new electronic health record applications and much more."

The videoconference call was made possible by 404 miles of newly installed fiber-optic cable, running from Homer to Levelock in Bristol Bay; and 13 new microwave sites, including four remote mountaintop towers outside Dillingham. The call between Juneau and Bethel transited over existing fiber-optic cables between Juneau and Homer.

What Happens Now?

The completion of TERRA-SW now means that terrestrial broadband service will be available for the first time from Anchorage to 65 remote, rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The service available to more than 9,000 households and nearly 750 public, non-profit and private community institutions, including regional healthcare providers, school districts and Alaska Native organizations.
Users reportedly will immediately experience lower latency on Internet connections.

Long-distance calling already has been routed through the new broadband hybrid microwave/fiber network for most customers. GCI believes callers will notice the lack of latency in calls to and from the region, resulting in more normal conversations without satellite-caused delays. However, satellite facilities will remain in place throughout southwest Alaska in the event of an outage on TERRA-SW.

"TERRA-SW is a monumental achievement for Alaska," says Ron Duncan, GCI president. "We continue to be thankful for the Rural Utilities Service’s continuing support for rural Alaska…The public and private investment in TERRA-SW will provide Southwest Alaskans health, education, public-safety and economic development benefits for decades to come."

He adds, "Faster speed and lower latency beckons a new opportunity for a region of America that is the size of the state of Oregon. We plan to push on to Unalakleet this year with terrestrial connectivity, and then to Nome in 2013."

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