by Greg Lincoln
During a pandemic is the worst possible time to have your internet shut off because you went over your limit, especially if you are a tribal organization here in our YK delta villages. Pandemic times are also when you need the most connection to help keep everyone going and continuing on with work, school, business.
John Wallace of Bethel, who provides small Business and non-profit technology support in southwest Alaska first got wind of how big the problem is in rural Alaska last year – the problem of having insufficient broadband and having to be completely shut off at the 120 megabyte limit.
He had been in the village of Akiachak helping the tribal organization with their internet routers – they had called him to come help them this past summer.
“On December 30, I got a call from the manager. Their Internet was down. It is nearing the last day of the month, but unfortunately, due to a large windows update release, all internet has been terminated because the data has run out. This business runs the village store, electricity company, and fuel sales for the village,” wrote Wallace in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dated January 25th, 2021. “In addition they are basically the bank and cash checks for village residents. The Point of Sale operation requires Internet to make sales. All operations shut down. Worse, due to the pandemic I cannot travel to the village to assist configuring a new connection as the only alternative is to purchase another and install it.”
My thing is, it’s urgent, said Wallace. It is urgent when we have no choices here.
“In the covid response time, data now is as important as electricity. Right? If you consider that people need to know the rules of how to spend their money and be trained on covid response – border patrol, the things they are doing but they are not able to because their vendor has cut them off,” he said. “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.”
Appeals to internet providers aren’t working, the Congressional delegation and state elected leaders haven’t helped yet, and we need the availability of affordable service in Rural Alaska.
“ESPECIALLY during this time of Covid where students, businesses, and others are not able to travel or even leave their homes in many cases,” Wallace said.
Currently in Western Alaska village internet is provided by GCI and it is subsidiary UUI. A DSL connection (10Mbps) is $299 per month for 100GB of service. After 100GB overages are charged at $7.50/GB wrote Wallace in his FCC letter.
“BUT– And this is the biggest issue– After 20GB of overage, the service is terminated until the next month. Shut off. No exceptions. Even if the consumer or business wants to pay the overage, it is turned off. Wireless is available in some communities without a data cap, but is not as reliable as a wired connection and logistically not an option as well,” he said.
SpaceX who operates Starlink is proposing a flat rate of $100 a month for its unlimited broadband services, plus a one-time equipment fee of $500 for the SpaceX dish.
Hope lies in Starlink. Starlink has already launched 10 satellites, but more launches are needed. In November Starlink applied for 348 more satellites.
“When it’s all said and done to me, the word that needs to get out is we need alternatives and we need them fast. Starlink is ready and able and willing and the only impediment is the FCC, that’s it,” Wallace said.
Folks can write letters to the FCC to help move along Starlink’s plan to bring another option for connectivity to us here in rural Alaska. Here’s how:
How to file at the FCC (you can find these instructions on John Wallace’s website AlaskanSky.com):
You can submit comments using the FCC’s filing system at http://licensing.fcc.gov/myibfs/pleading.do
Select a Pleading Type of “Letter.”
Provide the appropriate contact information in the remaining form fields.
Click “Next Step.”
Enter the following file number:
Click “Next Step.”
Upload a PDF of the letter by clicking on the paperclip icon under Replace/Attach and providing the requested information.
“I implore the commission to expedite the request to bring Internet service to rural Alaska and expand the present 10 satellites to whatever is necessary to allow Internet service for our people. Thank you for the first group, but please, let’s get going with the full spectrum,” – John Wallace’s letter conclusion to the FCC.