Closing the Digital Divide

GCI's multi-million-dollar annual rural network refueling effort passes halfway point

Specialized helicopters carry over 100,000 gallons of fuel to 22 different remote towers

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – With 14 of its 22 remote mountaintop towers refueled, the annual refueling effort for GCI’s TERRA network has passed its halfway point. The refueling effort keeps critical network infrastructure running and connectivity flowing to homes, clinics, schools and businesses throughout Western and Northwest Alaska.

The TERRA (Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska) Network provides access to internet and wireless service to 45,000 Alaskans in more than 85 communities in Western and Northwest Alaska. Far from commercial power grids, the remote mountaintop towers must be refueled every year using specialized helicopters to stay running and self-sufficient for months. GCI crews and local contractors will make more than 200 round trips this summer to deliver approximately 106,000 gallons of diesel fuel to the remote sites.

“This project is a huge undertaking, and our team takes great pride in getting the work done safely and efficiently,” said Senior Manager of GCI Rural Network Operations & Maintenance Earl Merchant. “We wouldn’t be able to get this project done without the help of local partners like Bering Air. The local pilots bring a wealth of knowledge gained from years of flying in the area that ensures the project is done efficiently and safely.”

TERRA Refuel mountaintop3
Crews refuel a remote TERRA tower on a frozen mountaintop using a specialized Huey helicopter equipped with an internal fuel bladder.

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. Also, if there are caribou or other animals visible near the site, crews will adjust flight routes to avoid contact.

“Alaska offers many challenges with its sheer size and amount of rural and remote communities, but our rural-based technicians are more than up for the job,” said Senior Director of GCI Facilities & Rural Network Operations JD Schultz. “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.”

Once the helicopters get to the remote locations, they fill up one or two 4,500-gallon fuel storage tanks. Arctic diesel fuel is hauled in between 410 and 440 gallons at a time by helicopter, with each site taking as many as 16 round trips up the mountain to fill the tanks.

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-September.

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.