Welcome to our next Digital Inclusion Corps Field Report. In this column, we hear from different members of our Digital Inclusion Corps pilot team. If you’re interested in learning more about the projects, check out the page.
My name is Jeff Garcie. I am the National Digital Inclusion Corps member assigned to Kodiak, Alaska sponsored by the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository. I have lived here on Kodiak Island for 5 years. In my time in Kodiak I have had the opportunity to travel to many remote villages and communities throughout Alaska for both business and pleasure. When I visit these places, the most incredible thing is meeting and interacting with the amazing people that live there. My experience and exchanges with these communities have made me realize that there is a great divide between the digital connectivity that most urban people take for granted in their day to day life, and the lack of technology in these remote locations.
My goal as a member of the NDIA Corps is to begin to address digital inclusion in these rural communities. I have started by contacting the community leaders to assess the needs and desires of each location. I have found that the native corporations, the public libraries, and the school system have been a great resource to answer these questions. They not only have a grasp on the needs of the people they represent, but as community members themselves they can offer a wealth of personal experiences.
The overwhelming need expressed is the lack of high quality and affordable broadband internet, however digital literacy is almost as much of a concern. Most these communities are using satellite to have access to the internet. This is a very expensive and low quality option. Hughes Net, the company providing the service, has the capacity to send higher power signal strength to an area from the satellite. However, the small populations of these villages and the low subscription rate does not make it a profitable venture to establish the infrastructure necessary to serve these locations. Satellite is also a high cost option making it out of reach of most residents. Some of the communities can receive DSL connections and cellular internet, but the cost-to-performance ratio of DSL is not always ideal. Currently, the best internet available is from the schools and libraries which have a subsidized connection only available on site. We are examining the possibility leveraging TV White Space to connect some of these locations.
There is a need for digital literacy training, especially for village elders, who have not had access to computers and have never found a need to learn. With the higher usage of social media there is a growing desire to connect with family and friends through digital means. To address these concerns, we plan on networking with community members and organizing digital literacy clinics where everyone can have their specific needs met. The individual needs of these communities can be identified and confronted. Digital inclusion can become a reality for people who have an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience to share with the world.