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Greg Kim, Alaska Public Media
Greg Kim, Alaska Public Media
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While many areas across the U.S. have been upgraded to high speed internet, there are still pockets that are in a broadband desert. That includes many rural Alaska communities. Greg Kim of Alaska Public Media reports on one town that is finally getting connected.
While many areas across the U.S. have been upgraded to high-speed Internet, there are still pockets that are in a broadband desert. And that includes many rural Alaska communities.
Greg Kim of Alaska Public Media reports on one town that is finally getting connected.
Shawna Williams is a parent with a full-time job in Akiak. She's also in school to get her bachelor's degree in early childhood education. and there's an added challenge. She attends her classes by phone.
Shawna Williams, Akiak Resident:
Because this is the most reliable way to join class.
She is trying to use video so she could see what her teachers were writing on the board. But she says her connection just kept freezing.
Because the Internet is too slow. It'll — every so often, it'll load and say your Internet isn't stable.
In-home broadband Internet is not available in Akiak or anywhere in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. That has made it increasingly difficult for people there to participate in all aspects of modern life.
Williams is one of the few people in Akiak who has home Internet. It's far below broadband speeds and comes with data limits. For that, she pays over $300 a month.
On top of fuel costs, food costs, electricity, it's — we just barely make it month to month.
Later this month, broadband Internet will reach every home in Akiak, and her bill will be a quarter of what she pays now. Internet speeds and data limits will double.
A combination of factors have made broadband in rural Alaska possible. A company called OneWeb that operates low-Earth orbit satellites to deliver broadband launches its service this year, and Akiak is one of its first customers.
Akiak is also using coronavirus relief funding to pay for its broadband project.
Akiak Chief Mike Williams Sr., Shawna's dad, says the effects of the pandemic motivated the tribe to act quickly.
Mike Williams Sr., Akiak Chief:
We may be forced to do a lockdown again. But we're going to be prepared this time.
Akiak has also created a nonprofit organization to show other tribes in Western Alaska how to follow their blueprint to bring broadband to their communities; 17 tribes have joined.
In the month leading up to broadband going live in Akiak, technicians installed antennae receivers on all the homes in the village to prepare them for broadband access.
For Lena Foss, having Internet access at home will mean opening up a world of knowledge. Foss says, once she has broadband, she will finish fixing her dryer and anything else in Akiak that's broken.
Lena Foss, Akiak Resident:
All this broken stuff would probably be fixed by YouTube. I would probably start a small business, calling it YouTube Fix-It-all.
Foss wants to be able to bank and file her taxes online, like everyone else. She also has Native allotment lands that she wants to research online.
I want to teach my younger children, because, when I pass, it'll be their land and they need to know. Internet will open my eyes. I know it will.
For decades, much of rural Alaska has been left behind, as the rest of the world has become increasingly digital. People in Akiak are excited to catch up.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Greg Kim in Akiak, Alaska.
Such an uplifting story. Thank you.
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