Alaska’s Broadband Challenges

I swear this isn’t a “No. We can’t do that because … reasons.” sort of post. I think a good amount of the internet-driven creative participatory ideas we’ve been discussing can be used here in Alaska. I just figured it might be enlightening to discuss a few of the broadband challenges in my state, especially in rural areas.

Much of this post is going to be driven by content in the recently issued Alaska Broadband Task Force Report.

First, according to independent studies, Alaska is either practically at the bottom or at best middle of the pack in broadband infrastructure:

Planning for Alaska’s broadband future is imperative because the state lags in adequate statewide infrastructure. In fact, a December 2012 “State Broadband Index” developed by TechNet, an advocacy group comprised of innovators and technology leaders, ranks Alaska 49th of all 50 states in broadband adoption, network quality, and economic structure.

A second snapshot of the nation’s technological health, published in December 2012 by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and called the “2012 State New Economy Index,” benchmarked economic transformation in all 50 states by asking one simple question: To what degree does the structure of state economies match the ideal structure of the New Economy?

The research measured five indicators: knowledge jobs, globalization, economic dynamism, the digital economy, and the capacity to innovate. Alaska ranked 28th of all 50 states.

A second issue is that of cost. In 2010, the median cost per MBps of bandwidth in Alaska ($16.77) is about three times higher than the rest of the country ($6.13).

This higher cost leads into the third issue. Outside of the main urban areas (Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau), most areas are served by satellite. Satellite access is not only more expensive, but by virtue of the fact that internet packets fly up 25,000 miles in space and down again, is fairly slow.

A recent initiative of the Alaska State Library, the Online With Libraries (OWL)project, has brought faster internet to rural Alaska. Though faster is in comparison to what they had before. Libraries getting broadband assistance from OWL had their speeds raised to 1.5 MBps upload/download. While this doesn’t sound like much, it has enabled patrons at these libraries to videoconference for job interviews, enjoy outside programming and be able to participate in online activities that only frustrated them before.

On the other hand, bandwidth is still expensive and limited and a library’s budget could get busted if everyone in town started uploading long YouTube videos.

On the third hand, a lot of what we’ve read and seen and discussed can be implemented without a cheap broadband connection.

References:

Alaska Broadband Task Force Final Report (August 2013) Accessed at http://www.alaska.edu/files/oit/bbtaskforce/2013-08-AK-Broadband-Task-Force-Report|A-Blueprint-for-Alaska’s-Broadband-Future.pdf.

Broadband 101  – Steve Smith, CIO, University of Alaska OIT. (December 2010) Accessed at http://library.alaska.gov/pdf/anc/owl/owl_final_smith.pdf

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