Here on the edge of the U.S. Arctic, Internet connectivity is a slow—and expensive—proposition. Eighty-one percent [fcc.gov] [PDF] of rural residents in Alaska do not have broadband Internet [fcc.gov], defined by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as providing a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second. People in Kotzebue have long relied on satellite connections for Internet service at speeds comparable to those of dial-up. At the beginning of the year, their average download speed [broadbandnow.com] was just 2 Mb/s.
The Igichuk tower is one of the final pieces of one of the most ambitious telecommunications projects in the rural United States. Built by General Communication Inc. [gci.com] (GCI) and known as TERRA, it was completed this past October, after US $300 million of investment and six years of construction, when engineers installed its final microwave repeater. The network uses a combination of repeater data links and fiber optics to form a giant, 5,000-kilometer ring around southwest Alaska—a sparsely populated region with few paved roads and wilderness areas larger than West Virginia.
With TERRA, Kotzebue residents now pay $59.99 per month for an Internet plan with download speeds of 3 Mb/s, which is not even fast enough [netflix.com] to stream a high-definition movie. To be able to do that, they would need to pay at least $149.99 per month for 6 Mb/s. Compare that with New York City, where residents pay an average of $55 per month for 25 Mb/s.