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Vol. 12, No. 44 Week of November 04, 2007
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

PETROLEUM DIRECTORY: ASTAC meets Arctic region’s communications needs with state-of-the-art services

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative offers local and long distance, Internet, 850 MHz Wireless, wired and 700 MHz licensed wireless broadband, and Arctic Lite Transparent LAN service

Q. When was ASTAC founded, who founded it, and what was its original name?

A. The Arctic Slope Regional Corp., seeking region-wide telephone service, provided seed-funding in 1979. It soon became apparent that the cooperative business model would best serve the people of the region, who at that point had one “bush” phone per village. ASTAC has had the same name since incorporation.

Q. Where is your company located?

A. Our headquarters office is at 4300 B Street, Suite 501, in Anchorage. We also have offices at 1078 Kiogak Street in Barrow and at 100 Airport Way in Deadhorse. In addition there are telecommunications central offices in each of the nine exchange communities we serve on the North Slope.

Q. Who heads up ASTAC and who is on its senior management team?

A. A nine-member board elected by the cooperative members oversees policy and development. David S. Fauske is our CEO/general manager. His senior management team consists of Remi Sun, chief financial officer; Charlie Carpenter, chief of network operations; and Steve Merriam, chief services officer.

Q. Describe any partnership arrangements and when they became effective.

A. A partnership has been recently established with OTZ Telephone Co-op, our neighboring cooperative based at Kotzebue.

Q. What is the company’s primary business sector?

A. We are a full service telecommunications provider.

Q. Who are the company’s main clients?

A. Our main clients are the subscribers of the member-owned cooperative. Members who are provided telecommunications services are oil production and oilfield service companies and camps; the North Slope Borough; regional and village Native corporations; and traditional Native councils. We also provide originating and terminating local exchange services to the long distance companies.

Q. How many employees does your company have?

A. We currently have 50 employees — 26 in the Anchorage office and eight in Barrow, serving the west side of the North Slope, and 10 in Deadhorse serving the east side of the North Slope. Each of the seven village exchanges has a part-time local representative as well.

Q. Does your company have subsidiaries? If so, what services do they provide?

A. Our two wholly owned subsidiaries, Kasuuti LLC and ASTAC LD, provide microwave transport and long distance toll resale.

Q. Describe your essential equipment in general terms. Purchases planned?

A. We have digital switches in all nine exchanges we serve. We currently have GSM roaming service in Deadhorse and have an aggressive rollout schedule to bring it to Barrow and the village home markets and well as expanded service coverage around Deadhorse in the near future.

Q. Is your company expanding any of its operations and/or locations?

A. We have been and will continue to push any service to the edge from any existing network access point if there is a sustainable business case to be made for the service. In some instances, aid to construction from the served company can bridge the gap between an expensive project and the anticipated revenues flowing from that project.

Q. Is the company changing any of its services?

A. In wireless, we added roaming GSM to our TDMA/AMPS home service in Deadhorse. Soon, we will offer GSM home service there as well. We will continue to support the higher cost TDMA/AMPS service due to the large number of truck phone customers who depend on this service out beyond the coverage of GSM or CDMA service.

We acquired the 700 MHz wireless broadband license for the upper half of Alaska several years ago. With the FCC’s upcoming auction of the remaining 700 MHz frequency causing such a buzz, consumer awareness of 700 MHz capability will be much more ubiquitous. Couple this with the coming demand for equipment by the winning bidders, and manufacturers of 700 MHz equipment will have the economies of scale to produce longer-range equipment. This will be of particular benefit to the early adopters like ASTAC.

Q. What is your company’s main strength, i.e. its edge over the competition?

A. The dedication all of our employees have to the cooperative’s mission and the years of experience our technicians have accumulated working in an Arctic environment give us a tremendous advantage. There has been a great deal of media hype about “telephone wars,” but in truth, the long distance companies buy a lot of service from us to originate and terminate their service offerings. Probably the bigger competition is for acquiring and retaining the next generation of telecom worker with rapidly changing technology.

Q. What new markets, clients and/or projects did your company attract in the last year?

A. 700 MHz licensed wireless broadband continues to grow as a market opportunity for us with companies needing a high speed wireless broadband connection. Our Arctic Lite Transparent LAN service was also introduced in the last few months and is the answer for tying multiple separate LANs together. We have one customer who was able to lower its transport costs off the North Slope by tying together LANs at Alpine, Kuparuk, and Deadhorse and sharing their connectivity back to Anchorage.

Q. Has the company invested in any new technology in the last two years?

A. We have invested in GSM wireless service and in software-defined radio, in addition to the continuing cycle of upgrades to existing switching platforms.

Q. What is the most challenging job ASTAC has undertaken? 

A. Nothing is easy in the Arctic. Maybe the deployment of our Cellular Repeater on Wheels in support of the Alaska Clean Seas emergency spill response in 2006 is a good example of our commitment to supporting our oilfield neighbors. We redeployed, set up and activated the CROW in a 12-hour time frame in minus 60 degree Fahrenheit wind chill.

Q. What are the biggest obstacles to completing work the company undertakes?

A. Adverse weather and short construction seasons for outside plant projects give us our greatest challenges to staying on track with project deadlines and budgets.

Q. What do you see as your company’s biggest challenge in the next five years?

A. Personnel are our greatest asset and timely replacement of retiring workers with the next generation of dedicated, competent employees with a forward-looking skill set will challenge all companies in telecommunications. 

Q. What do you see as future trends or opportunities for your company from, say, political events or long-term weather fluctuations?

A. Both Congress and the FCC are struggling with the need to bring the terms of the Telecommunications Acts of 1934 and 1996 current and appropriate to the impact of rapidly emerging technologies. Telecommunications service providers such as ASTAC must survive this rather chaotic transition. There is both opportunity and danger.

Q. What is the most humorous story from ASTAC’s years in business in Alaska?

A. A local television reporter earnestly described the desperate plight of the blizzard-bound village of Kaktovik “entirely cut off from the world” and then cut to a live telephone interview with the village mayor. (ASTAC’s telephone service to the “outside world” never faltered throughout the duration of that severe storm).

Q. Do you have an anniversary or other landmark event coming up?

A. We are presently celebrating our 30th year anniversary since incorporation.

Q. What is the average length of time your workforce is employed by the company? Are you hiring for any positions?

A.ASTAC employees’ average length of time worked is approximately 11 years. We are currently recruiting for a network engineer.

Q. What is your company’s safety record?

A. ASTAC has consistently received ARECA’s Safety Achievement Awards for hours worked without accidents for most years throughout the 1990s and recent years.

Q. Does ASTAC or its partners or subsidiaries maintain Web sites?

A. Yes. Check us out at www.astac.net.



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