Imagine Gold Creek. Compare it to the Taku River.
On Saturday, GCI held a party at its store celebrating the arrival of gigabit home Internet in Juneau. Seventeen years ago, GCI Senior Vice President Paul Landes joined the company as it was rolling out cable modems with a capacity of 256 kilobits per second.
The difference between those modems and the access arriving in Juneau over the weekend was the difference between Gold Creek and the Taku.
“We’re 4,000 times faster,” Landes explained.
On Saturday, Juneau joined Anchorage and the Mat-Su, which already have access to gigabit Internet. While most Juneauites (and most Alaskans, for that matter) don’t yet need Internet service that fast, Landes said that won’t be the case forever.
“We’re a little bit ahead of the market from a technology perspective,” Landes said.
As people turn away from TVs and toward computers for their video, high-definition video streaming is expected to become more common. Higher-quality video demands more capacity, or it stutters, buffers and makes viewers frustrated.
Internet access isn’t just for entertainment, either. Within each of the nine tax increases proposed by Gov. Bill Walker this year is a provision calling for taxes to be collected electronically.
State and federal benefits are being delivered electronically, and so are college courses and how-to lessons.
Last year, speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa, President Barack Obama declared, “Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”
Cedar Falls was the first city in Iowa to offer gigabit Internet access. Even today, it remains a rarity outside major metropolitan areas because of the cost of infrastructure.
Landes said GCI was able to offer the speedy service in Juneau through technical upgrades that mean fewer homes are tied to a particular node of the Internet. That means each home gets a bigger piece of the pie.
According to GCI’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it had 140,000 cable modem subscribers across Alaska on the last day of 2015. Of those, 12,700 are business customers and 127,300 are home customers, making it the largest home Internet Service Provider in the state.
Landes said about 10-15 percent of those customers buy the highest tier of home service, which in Juneau costs $180 per month.
While the new gigabit service is 10 times faster than GCI’s next-speediest 100 megabit service, the company’s monthly data allowance isn’t increasing in tandem.
The 100 megabit plan offers 300 gigabytes of data per month; the gigabit plan offers 750 gigabytes of data, a little over double.
“We don’t offer unlimited (Internet), and we do that on purpose,” Landes said.
He added that the data caps are designed to be enough for “95-plus percent” of the company’s customers. People who need more can buy additional data or agree to have their access slowed until the new month starts, he said. The company’s overall goal is to avoid presenting customers with an unexpected bill.
According to GCI officials, the gigabit service will be available to anyone in Juneau who can already subscribe to GCI home Internet. The company’s landline home Internet service extends south to Thane and north to a point just short of the Shrine of St. Therese.
Away from Juneau, the company intends to begin offering gigabit Internet service in Fairbanks. Sitka, Ketchikan and other Southeast locations will need to wait.