Clearer signal for GCI: sale boosts company's holdings.

Author:Morgan, Barbara
 
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GCI recently bought more than 80 percent of Alaska DigiTel, a cellular company with 33,000 subscribers.

Although the deal was announced in late 2005, it took a year to get final FCC approval. The deal closed in January 2007. Now, Alaska DigiTel has more capital to invest in general wireless, which will enable it to grow.

"We have big plans," says Jeff Roe, chief operating officer for Alaska DigiTel.

"We want to increase our cell sites by 50 percent at the end of the year. Next year, we plan to increase our sites by 100 percent. We plan to expand our coverage to Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai and Soldotna, while upgrades in Anchorage will be ongoing."

GCI's investment in Alaska DigiTel provides new capital and loan money. Some of the proceeds are planned to buy out some of the private investors and refinance most of the company's debt.

As the banker and owner, GCI owns 80 percent of the company, which is a significant investment on its part.

Now Alaska DigiTel can build more sites and expand its coverage.

DigiTel plans to ramp up the process, but is conducting research marketing first. It wants to enhance its customer-delivery service in its process of expansion and revamping.

BACK WHEN

Founded by an investment company from Memphis, Tenn., DigiTel started operations in Anchorage in 1998 and has continued to build its business to where it is now.

Roe, who has been in the telecom business for 30 years, joined Alaska DigiTel mid last year. Roe came from Alascom, but has worked previously with GCI and knows the management team. Roe chose to work with Alaska DigiTel because he wanted to do something special, he says.

UPGRADE IN THE WORKS

Alaska DigiTel is currently in the process of remodeling its stores. In Anchorage, Dimond Mall's kiosk will become a full-fledge store as will Northway Mall's kiosk.

Alaska DigiTel is opening a store in South Anchorage and Soldotna and Fairbanks later this year. Eagle River also has a sales store. Alaska DigiTel will be promoting its new stores this month and its new e-commerce rollout.

It is investing money in its Web site and making plans to improve its switch environment.

Plans are under way to improve service. The company will be selling cell phones out of its call center.

Currently, Alaska DigiTel is third to Cellular One and ACS in cell service, but is slowly closing the gap. It may be less than one-third the size of its competitors, but it is growing.

"We will be a more significant competitor than in the past,"...

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