Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), explained some of the obstacles to bringing broadband and high-speed internet to rural Alaska during an address at an event organized by the Internet Innovation Alliance.
On a recent trip to rural Alaska, Davidson got an up-close view of the very real challenges that many in Alaska were facing when looking to execute some of the simplest tasks online – such as accessing healthcare, education, and shopping resources online.
“There’s nothing like seeing firsthand where the real challenges and opportunities are going to be. And nowhere is that honestly more real than Alaska,” Davidson said.
“It’s beautiful, but it becomes instantly clear what the challenges are going to be like,” he added. “The unique topography, the scale of it . . . just hundreds of miles flying over nothing to reach a village or a town where we’re going to need to figure out how to get high-speed internet installed there.”
One of the challenges that became apparent to Davidson is the slow internet service speeds that plague many in the state.
“They’ve got just really slow service. We were in the village of Tanana, Alaska, on the shores of the Yukon River,” he recalled. “There are 300 people sharing a 30 megabit per second connection, which is very slow and unacceptable,” he said.
Davidson explained that many of these communities are not only just being dragged down by slow speeds, but also by exorbitant prices for slow service speeds.
“Some pay $700 or $800 dollars a month routinely, people were showing us their bills on their phone – which is half of their income,” said Davidson.
With the Federal government flush with broadband improvement funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Davidson said he remains cautiously optimistic that many of these challenges will be met by allocating necessary funding for rural Alaska.
“This is kind of a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” he said. “It’s not often that we get these kinds of resources to do a big infrastructure project like this. This is our shot at bridging the digital divide. So, we need to get this right,” said Davidson.