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GCI's 1 GIG Red: Bringing Alaska to the Cutting Edge of Connectivity

GCI's 1 GIG Red: Bringing Alaska to the Cutting Edge of Connectivity

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What would you do if you had gigabit internet speed in your house?

GCI, Alaska’s largest internet service provider, posed this question in 2015 to the residents of Anchorage, Alaska, in a fun contest that had neighborhoods competing to receive gigabit speeds in their homes — a first for consumers in the state. The neighborhoods that showed the most interest would come away with the provider's premiere of its 1 GIG red service and a big block party to kick off the launch. (Eventually, 1 GIG red would be available in all of Anchorage.) Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was on board. The contest inspired residents to frequently check the Alaska map on the website to see if their neighborhood was pulling ahead. By Thanksgiving of last year, neighborhoods in Anchorage were set up to receive the service and GCI customers were upgraded at no additional cost as GCI turned Black Friday into “Red Friday.”

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But what was really interesting was where the responses to GCI’s big question were coming from, said Kate Slyker, GCI vice president of consumer marketing. "We thought the people who would be most interested in the service would be the gamers," said Slyker. But it was actually large families, millennials with several roommates, and multi-users in the same household who wanted it the most. And the interest it generated came from all over, not just particular geographic areas. Streaming without glitches, a faster gaming experience, and video conferencing with loved ones were several of the big things that people anticipated with the gigabit service. "A sense of competitiveness also came out of the survey," said Slyker. People wrote that they couldn’t wait to have a service before their relatives in Boston and Los Angeles did. "[Alaskans] often feel behind, so this was thrilling to be on the cutting edge of something.”

Currently there are four regions in Alaska — Anchorage, Matanuska Valley, Juneau, and Fairbanks — that offer 1 GIG red, and they are also home to around 60-70 percent of the state’s population. This year started off strong with the launch of 1 GIG red in Palmer and Wasilla in the Matanuska Valley, the fastest growing area in the state. The community came together in celebration, and that says a lot because it's hard to get excited about anything in Alaska in January, explained Slyker. Juneau was next in the spring, followed by Fairbanks. By year-end, GCI will also offer 1 GIG red in the Kenai Peninsula. But the journey to lighting it up red was and continues to be one of hard work, logistical challenges and persistence. To upgrade services, residents needed a new modem that could deliver gigabit speeds.

The GCI team put together an outreach plan that entailed not just sending mailings, but dispatching representatives into the homes to swap out the modems as well as to provide recycling areas in stores where people could trade in old modems. "Our connectivity is ahead of the technology people have in their homes," said Slyker, pointing to the next challenge. Laptops needed to be checked to ensure they had the hardware to support gigabit speeds. So GCI trained their front line workers to walk people through issues, with many reps carrying new routers in their vans to help hook people up quickly. The initial hurdle before the launch was explaining to residents what one gigabit even meant. People didn't have anything to compare it to. "We were promising this speed, but no one was delivering this. So we had to educate customers, we had to create communication around it," said Slyker. The provider also got local bloggers involved in communicating these messages. "We talked a lot [to our customers] about one gig being 100 times faster than most internet that Americans have in their homes today, but we had to quantify this." For example, if someone had a photo library, this is how long it would take to download all the photos with this type of internet speed versus the time it would take with 1 GIG red, Slyker explained. 1 GIG red, which benefits small businesses and customers the most, has started to transform the economy and entertainment landscape in Alaska. In a state where terrain and weather can pose many social and economic challenges, people are always looking for things to do to keep themselves entertained. Their ability to download movies and TV shows, use Apple TV, and stream without hiccups, is a pretty big deal, and gives people fewer qualms about moving to Alaska. As Mayor Berkowitz said at the first launch in Anchorage, “With 1 GIG, Anchorage graduates to a new class that can support tech-savvy organizations and individuals." There are many constraints when it comes to living here, but connectivity isn't one of them, said Slyker.

Header image displays Alaskan celebrity and dog sled racer Lance Mackey pushing the ceremonial button to kick off the 1 GIG red launch party in Fairbanks, Alaska.  This blog also appeared in CTAM Smartbrief. To sign up, click here.