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Port Lions and Ouzinkie are getting hooked up to GCI’s Aleutian Fiber Project

Six more communities are being added to telecommunications company GCI’s Aleutian Fiber Project. The massive undertaking is now slated to bring high speed internet to a dozen communities along the Alaskan Peninsula – including three villages in the Kodiak archipelago.

GCI announced last week that the Native village of Port Lions – on Kodiak Island – was awarded a $29.3 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to hook into 800-miles of subsea fiber the company is currently laying on the ocean floor.

The funding also secures future broadband access for the communities of Ouzinkie – just to the north of Kodiak Island – Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Cold Bay and False Pass.

“It made so much sense for us to get this because there’s already a project in the works,” said Denise May, the tribal administrator for the village of Port Lions.

GCI started laying fiber up the Chain from Unalaska in early August as part of its Aleutian Fiber Project. The village of Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island was included in the company’s initial plans to expand high speed internet service as part of the undertaking, along with Unalaska, Akutan, Sand Point, King Cove and Chignik Bay. Just last month, a ship was spotted off Kodiak’s Mill Bay Beach hooking up fiber from the city of Kodiak that will eventually connect the other communities.

May says that plan made it easier for nearby villages, like Port Lions, to get their own fiber hook-ups. She says many communities applied together as “clusters” so they’d have a better chance tapping into funding.

“Individually, we’re not enough because we’re such small communities, but when we collaborate and there’s more of us, it makes more sense for the government to put something in because they know they’re impacting more people,” said May.

It’s hard to quantify just how big that impact will be, according to May. Port Lions has a population of nearly 200, that number swells by about a hundred in the summer. She’s hoping that high speed internet will reinvigorate the economy; local businesses will have access to a larger market, and younger people will be able to work remotely. Connectivity will also improve residents’ access to healthcare. It’s opened a bigger – and exciting – conversation about the future, according to May.

“Next is really rebuilding the community, right? What does our housing look like? What kind of jobs can we put into the community to encourage people to move home? It’s a much larger project beyond the internet,” said May.

According to GCI, Unalaska homes and businesses will have high speed internet by the end of this year. Residents in the villages on Kodiak Island will have to wait until 2024 for their new internet services to start.