Annual GCI TERRA refueling effort keeps off-the-grid towers running and Alaskans connected
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – GCI, Alaska’s largest telecommunications provider, has launched its annual project to refuel 22 remote mountaintop towers that are part of the company’s TERRA network. The TERRA (Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska) network is a massive $300 million GCI infrastructure project serving 45,000 Alaskans in 84 rural communities. Far from power grids and urban sprawl, situated in some of the state’s most rugged terrain, reachable only by helicopter, these towers must be able to stay running and self-sufficient for months at a time.
Assisted by local contractors with specialized helicopters, GCI crews will make more than 200 round trips this summer to deliver approximately 102,000 gallons of diesel fuel to these remote sites. The refueling effort is critical in order to power the network that keeps Western and Northwest Alaska clinics, schools and community residents connected.
A technician ensures fuel is transferred safely from a fuel bladder inside a specially designed Huey helicopter to a fuel tank at a mountaintop TERRA site.
“Local partners like Bering Air and Yukon Helicopters play a key role in keeping rural Alaska connected,” said Senior Director of GCI Facilities & Rural Network Operations JD Schultz. “And working with local pilots who know the terrain and the challenges that go along with it helps ensure that we can safely and efficiently complete this project every year.”
As GCI builds and maintains its network and infrastructure, including the refueling effort at these remote towers, the company takes special precautions to ensure the safety of Alaska’s ecosystem. Flights are planned for certain times of year to avoid interfering with things like caribou migrations and subsistence hunting. During the TERRA refuel, helicopters fly at least 1,500 feet above the ground, weather permitting, to minimize disturbances to wildlife. And if there are caribou or other animals visible near the site, crews will adjust flight routes to avoid contact.
“Serving a state as big as Alaska with so many rural and remote communities is a challenge, but our dedicated rural-based technicians are more than up for the task,” Schultz said. “We have technicians and site agents in nearly every community we serve. We’re your neighbors. Our family and friends live here, too. That’s why we work so hard to make sure our techs are well-prepared to keep our network running and ready to serve all our customers.”
Each mountaintop repeater site has one or two 4,500-gallon tanks. Arctic diesel fuel is hauled in between 410 and 440 gallons at a time by helicopter. Refueling each site takes as many as 16 different trips up the mountain.
GCI purchases the fuel from Alaska companies and works with local businesses throughout the process. GCI expects the annual refueling project to be complete by mid-October.
Headquartered in Alaska, GCI provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer, business, government, and carrier customers throughout Alaska, serving more than 200 communities. The company has invested more than $3 billion in its Alaska network and facilities over the past 40 years and recently launched true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage, now the nation’s northernmost 5G service area. Learn more about GCI at www.gci.com. GCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Broadband Corporation (Nasdaq: LBRDA, LBRDK, LBRDP). Learn more about Liberty Broadband at http://www.libertybroadband.com.