GCI strikes $150M satellite deal with Intelsat to expand capacity for rural areas

GCI says it has been actively engaged in talks with LEO providers including SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat. (Getty Images)

The Alaskan service provider GCI has struck a $150 million deal with Intelsat to expand capacity for telecommunication services in rural areas.

GCI has delivered geosynchronous (GEO) satellite-based connectivity for 35 years to provide data, video and voice services in the state. The new deal not only provides GCI with continued access to C-band and Ku-band capacity, which is already part of GCI's satellite service portfolio, but it also provides new access to statewide Ka-band capacity.

Intelsat will supply a multi-satellite solution over a new and enhanced managed earth station platform and a tri-band (C, Ku and Ka) network that will cover the entire state of Alaska.

GCI CEO Ron Duncan said in a statement, "Some people have expressed concern that Alaska is running out of GEO satellite capacity — well, that's no longer an issue. This deal will nearly quadruple our available capacity. GCI intends to remain the leader in connectivity in rural Alaska. The Intelsat partnership is part of a much broader rural connectivity strategy that includes our AU-Aleutians Fiber Project."

GCI uses satellite to help it meet the growing demands of rural customers including tribal health care providers, school districts, government agencies and businesses.

"What sets GCI's satellite service apart is that we manage the network from end to end, combining Intelsat's satellite capacity with GCI's satellite engineering and remote logistics know-how," said GCI Senior VP of Corporate Development Billy Wailand.

Satellite technology has been around a long time to deliver communications services, but it’s gaining renewed interest lately as a means to close the digital divide. High-profile companies such as SpaceX are targeting the rural opportunity with their low earth orbit (LEO) technology.

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According to GCI, delivering service in rural Alaska requires a comprehensive approach and a willingness to use every tool in the toolkit, including fiber, microwave, GEO satellites like those operated by Intelsat, and eventually LEO satellites. GCI says it has been actively engaged in talks with LEO providers including SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat.

"We are confident that LEOs will become an important part of GCI's toolkit over time," said Wailand. "But before we begin encouraging some of our customers to consider a move to LEO satellites, we need to be confident in their performance and ability to meet our customers' current and future demands. Our partnership with Intelsat provides GCI and our customers with an immediate solution that addresses capacity needs today, as well as the ability to integrate future technologies like LEOs when they become ready."

For its part, Intelsat is the largest provider of satellite communications for the U.S. military, and it recently acquired the inflight commercial aviation service Gogo. More than 100 million households rely on Intelsat for their TV service.