Earl Merchant 2
Closing the Digital Divide

Annual refueling effort for GCI’s TERRA Network wraps up

TERRA network is a workhorse that kept Alaskans connected during this summer’s Quintillion fiber break

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — GCI crews wrapped up the annual refueling effort for its Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska (TERRA) network. Twenty-two towers atop remote mountaintops are connectivity keystones for the 3,300-mile-long hybrid fiber-microwave TERRA network. Due to the rugged, remote locations of these towers, each must remain operational and self-sufficient for months at a time.

The annual project, which began in early May, required crews to take 276 round trips in specialized helicopters to ferry more than 111,225 gallons of fuel to power the generators that keep these mountaintop towers online 24/7/365.

"To complete this project each year is a massive undertaking, and one you're likely to only find in Alaska," said Senior Manager of GCI Rural Network Operations & Maintenance Earl Merchant. "But despite the mountain of logistics, and the literal mountains themselves, our crews worked throughout the summer and fall to make sure each of the 45,000 Alaskans in more than 85 communities served by TERRA remain connected."

Each mountaintop repeater site has one or two 4,500-gallon tanks. Arctic diesel fuel is hauled in between 400 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 technicians and staff from Unalakleet, Kotzebue, Nome, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Palmer and Anchorage supported the effort. The company also works closely with local aviation contractor Bering Air. The annual refueling effort for the 2023 season was completed September 28.

A team of 225 GCI employees, including local site agents, technicians, and specially trained tower climbers are dedicated to the operations and maintenance of GCI’s rural infrastructure, ranging from TERRA and local access networks to satellite earth stations and wireless towers.

“I’m incredibly proud and grateful for all the hard work our crews put in to complete another successful year of refueling,” said Merchant. “It’s a tough job that requires long hours and weekends throughout the summer and fall months, yet they continue to make this annual refueling effort look easy.”

GCI’s TERRA Network and extensive satellite infrastructure played a key role the last few months, keeping thousands of Alaskans connected during the Quintillion subsea fiber break. The fiber was repaired in mid-September and services have since been fully restored.

“Our TERRA microwave network is a workhorse. We are so pleased with the performance of GCI’s TERRA and satellite networks which, despite shouldering a very heavy load, kept rural Alaska connected while we awaited repairs to Quintillion’s fiber,” said GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside. “We’re especially grateful for the army of GCI technicians, engineers, project managers, and local employees who have worked day and night these last few months to support the affected communities.”

Over the past 40+ years, GCI has invested more than $4 billion in its diverse statewide network, which includes extensive fiber, microwave and satellite infrastructure.

About GCI

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 $4 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.