It is wrong when your connection is pulled during this pandemic

by Delta Discovery Staff

John Wallace is not happy. He’s upset because in our local villages the tribally-run businesses and organizations need broadband connectivity to continue operations to keep their villages safe during this pandemic, but they are being cut off when they reach the 120 megabyte limit.

According to John, who is a dedicated technology expert here in Bethel and has travelled to villages to help them with their technology issues, they are being cut off completely when they reach the 120 megabyte threshold where they are on a DSL (digital subscriber line) connection.

The same internet connections which were federally funded and grant built for tribes in villages are pulled once they reach 120 megabytes. And connectivity is what you need especially during a pandemic.

Wallace says that you are not even given the chance or opportunity to go over the 120 megabytes, there are no outage fees, nothing. You are completely disconnected.

“The internet-based problem that we have in rural Alaska is that there is only one vendor. Even though its split into UUI (United Utilities Inc.) and GCI it is still one vendor because UUI is a subsidiary of GCI. I am upset about it because that federal money brought that technology here and it has done really good stuff – the schools, and the libraries, and medical providers have all benefitted from the broadband that was brought here by the federal government,” he said this past weekend.

The problem is that GCI/UUI and UUI specifically is that the main product, the main form of broadband in rural is DSL in our area, said Wallace.

“And so their policy is to turn people completely off once they get to 120 MB whether they’re a business, or a consumer, or whatever,” he said.

“I have appealed to UUI and said, hey during this pandemic when tribes need to be most efficient and serve their tribal members the most effectively to try to keep the COVID away from the village and all these different things – they need broadband to do that, but they say no. No, we can’t do that.”

It’s a crime

“Broadband is not something that you can turn off in my mind,” he continued. “You cannot do that. It is a crime to me that they are doing that. I have just been pulling the chain and calling and writing and nothing is happening. I called UUI – can’t do it. I write the President of GCI – no response. I got a hold of the entire delegation in Washington – nothing. Well, a little bit about ‘oh well, you know’, but nothing to force the company – all that network was brought it by federal dollars. Right?”

The point is to GCI and UUI, said Wallace, during COVID is the absolute worst time to turn off a tribe’s broadband. Any given tribe is responsible for the COVID response for their village. They have a COVID Coordinator, they have border patrol, they have all these pieces of this puzzle to effectively manage their COVID response. They have training they need to do online.

“They have all these different things they need to do online and in this whole time everybody’s moved to zoom. Zoom this, zoom that,” he said. “Well if you’ve got 15 people on a 100 gigabyte and 120 with overage connection, you can be done in 15 days. Not only that you have Windows updates that are intense, right? Especially if you buy a bunch of new computers, which a lot of people are doing because of the crisis. To me it is absolutely a crime to, especially during this time, to turn off businesses.”

If it’s one village, then there’s got to be more. Wallace said he helped one community with their modem balancing and router loads. He was impressed by what village folks are so good at – making things work with what they have.

Then he helped another village, and then another called. He was supposed to go back to the first village but the pandemic hit and lockdowns. He was planning on heading over there this week.

Wallace said that he wrote a letter to the FCC that basically implores them to authorize the 340 Starlink satellites to give us better access.

“I am at the point now where I don’t care about how I want an alternative, right? Because what we have is not working,” said Wallace.

“The reason I’m excited about SpaceX and Starlink is they don’t have to wait in line. When they are ready they go. They’ve got a proven technology and they have a proven launch schedule and they’re motivated to come here.”

What about GCI?

“I was just on the phone with them last Friday,” he said. “I asked them what’s the deal here. Where are we on on this outage thing? We are not going to change it. We can’t change it.”