Closing the Digital Divide

Annual refueling effort kicks off for GCI’s TERRA Network

Specialized helicopters will ferry more than 100,000 gallons of fuel to 22 remote mountaintop towers

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Beginning with the Cape Nome repeater, overlooking Norton Sound in Northwest Alaska, crews have kicked off the annual effort to refuel 22 TERRA Network microwave towers perched on remote mountaintops. Far from commercial power grids, these towers must be able to stay running and self-sufficient for months at a time.

With assistance from local contractors, refueling crews will make more than 200 round trips in specialized helicopters this summer to deliver more than 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel to these remote sites.

“The refueling effort is critical in order to power the network that keeps Western Alaska and Northwest Alaska clinics, schools, businesses and community residents connected,” said Senior Manager of GCI Facilities Operations Earl Merchant. “GCI technicians from across the state support this effort and bring their decades-worth of experience to bear every year to ensure these towers have enough fuel to stay online 24/7/365.”

TERRA photo NCTA 2
GCI works closely with aviation contractor Bering Air to deliver more than 100,000 gallons of fuel each year to 22 remote mountaintop towers. (Photo courtesy NCTA)

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.

“From weather to wildlife, there’s no shortage of challenges when it comes to an operation like this one,” said Merchant. “That’s why we rely on our local contractor partners like Bering Air, which is based in Nome. Their extensive experience flying in this region is invaluable to ensure the safe and efficient refueling of these remote towers.”

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.

The mountaintop towers are key pieces of GCI’s 3,300-mile TERRA Network, which provides access to connectivity to 45,000 Alaskans in more than 85 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.