It was a whole different communications world thirty years ago when General Communications Inc., which would become known as GCI, first came to Alaska. Founded by two Alaska entrepreneurs by the names of Bob Walp and Ron Duncan, the company constructed facilities and carried their first long distance call on Thanksgiving Day in 1982. By the turn of the century, GCI had become publically traded and become famous for low cost dial up internet. "In fact we had a product called Free-net that became one of our signature products when I joined the company in 1999," GCI general manager Paul Landes told the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce recently. "Of course now no one is on dial up and everything is high speed internet and we have a hundred thousand customers using our high speed internet. But the biggest change in the last couple of years has been the wireless side of the business, cell phones which are changing so rapidly a Rip Van Winkle nap might be like 10 days not 10 years. I never go on more than about a one week vacation because things change so rapidly in our industry that you have to stay in front of it. We have a very large group at GCI whose primary responsibility is to look into the future of technology and keep us pointed in that direction," said Landes. "The bottom line what the future is going to boil down to is 'Fast.' So we can talk 3G or 4G or use all the terminology, but what we are really talking about is speed and that is what people are looking for with wireless. We want to be able to download what we want, have the applications we want and we want them to work quickly," he said.
According to Landes, GCI has invested over $500 million in rural Alaska to bring wireless service to over 200 different communities in rural Alaska. "Next is our push to bring high speed internet to all of rural Alaska. Our TERA Southwest project will connect 65 rural villages with high speed internet," he said. In response to the earthquake in Japan, Landes announced that GCI would be providing free calls to Japan for GCI customers through April 10th. "To any GCI customer with their post paid wireless or landline, free calling to friends and family in Japan," he said. Regarding dependence on technology in the event of natural disasters, Landes feels that it is an asset for preparedness. "We have a very diverse system throughout Alaska and have invested heavily in redundant or dual systems so that if there is a failure in one of our connections, we have a back up that will operate in case of an emergency such as occurred in Japan," said Landes.
Relating to what the average customer spent for phone services 30 years ago and what is spent by the average family today Landes said, "We are committed to bring value to our customer, but at the same time our customers needs are changing rapidly and the requirement for more from our customers has been insatiable. What we use to use in the internet five year ago has changed dramatically in the last short period of time, so we're challenged with and focused on keeping value while still investing to be able to provide what our customers are looking for. I think that wireless will complement cable and will be a supplement to the hard wired services in your home, I don't see one replacing the other." he went onto explain. Competition in Alaska was what inspired the creation of GCI and has proven to be a benefit to consumers. "I think competition is what makes all of in the United States successful. Having to compete keeps us faster on our toes, more competitive price wise, and brings the latest technology to consumers faster," concluded Landes. GCI also hosted a meet and greet in Kenai at the Merit Inn following their presentation at the Soldotna Chamber luncheon.
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