FCC commissioner looks at Alaska's broadband challenges
When a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Kodiak in the early hours of Jan. 23, 2018, people in town headed for higher ground.
In Palmer, scientists at the National Tsunami Warning Center went to work, analyzing data to determine if a tsunami was imminent.
“The science means nothing if we can’t communicate it quickly, precisely and accurately,” said director Mike Angove.
The center has several ways to send and receive messages through local carriers like MTA and satellite providers like Hughes Net.
That’s important when scientists are getting inundated with information 24 hours a day.
“We rely on data from different sources from seismometers and tide sensors, dart buoys, those all take up bandwidth and to have access to a large amount of broadband service is important to our mission,” explained Richard Rasch, the electronics systems analyst.
One of the commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission is in Alaska to get a first-hand look at challenges facing our state.
Commissioner Brendan Carr toured the Tsunami Warning Center on Monday to learn what it takes to keep Alaskans informed in an emergency.
Scientists explained it’s not easy with the state’s remote communities spread across thousands of miles; the Aleutians are particularly difficult.
“It would be nice if there were more broadband solutions but today that’s not the case in a lot of communities, so we might rely on DSL, or cellular or proprietary solution like V-Sat type site,” Rasch said.
Commissioner Carr said there are several issues that make more broadband a struggle in the Last Frontier. Alaska’s short construction season and vast, frozen terrain are several.
“In the Lower 48, it can cost upwards of $30,000 to deploy one mile of fiber. You think about the population and geography up here of one or fewer people per square mile. The economics are very challenging,” Carr said.
He said the FCC’s goal is to “close the digital divide,” and work on funding and regulatory reform to see what it would take to increase broadband across the U.S.
That’s an even slower process in Alaska, though.
“Increasing the broadband would allow us to have more resiliency for our mission to bring in the data and trust that it will be there when we need it and to send out our messages,” Rasch said.
Commissioner Carr’s trip to Alaska also includes stops in Dutch Harbor, Anchorage and Fort Wainwright. He’ll visit Utqiagvik to learn how broadband impacts search and rescue operations before heading to Dillingham to see how broadband is changing health care with more telemedicine capabilities.
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