Port Lions is a village of approximately 200 people to the west of The City of Kodiak. Recently there has been an increased amount of interest in the improvement of their internet service. National Digital Inclusion Alliance has opened the conversation with the community about improving digital inclusion. The village has needed improved internet capability for their everyday lives for some time. For the consumer market, there has been a complete lack of broadband options available. The village called a broadband forum to discuss the broadband needs of the community. This forum called together city officials, telecom representatives, librarians, community development professionals, and community members. By opening the discussion, the village greatly increased its awareness of their broadband needs and was able to discover possible solutions for future digital inclusion.
A community wide survey was distributed to gather information about the internet services and their uses in Port Lions. The survey analyzed the types of internet available, their speeds and how people used it. The majority of current residents are primarily utilizing a Verizon Jetpack to access internet. This service is offered to Port Lions but, the only cellular service available is broadcasting data at 2G speeds. HughesNet is also used and the users typically expect to see speeds in the 1.5 Mbps range. The Port Lions Health Clinic receives internet via a microwave tower. The Port Lions School has internet access through GCI’s School Access program. It is broadcasting at a reported speed of 20 Mbps via a satellite connection. The school utilizes the subsidized connection for distance learning classes. The children of the village have access to a high-speed connection during the school day. However, the lack of available consumer internet limits the types of take home assignments the instructors can assign.
During the discussion, it was made clear that the microwave tower servicing the health clinic could be utilized as the piece of middle mile infrastructure needed to supply broadband internet to the village. Tel Alaska is currently the provider of the last mile connections to the homes in the village. Both infrastructure components are needed to support broadband speed to the consumer market. Currently the last mile infrastructure can only support speeds of 4.5-10 Mbps download speeds. Although, after hearing the concerns of the community the Tel Alaska representative pledged to open the discussion to develop a contractual agreement to utilize the microwave tower to supply DSL internet to the community. The caveat is the existing last mile infrastructure is outdated and may only be able to deliver speeds of 4.5 Mbps. While this is still far below the national average for broadband internet speed, it is a considerably better option than what is currently available to the consumer market.
By beginning the conversation about broadband in an open forum, the village has had their needs heard. City officials can now begin to develop a long-term plan to implement the needed infrastructure to supply the village with a cost-effective broadband. The telecommunication companies can utilize the existing infrastructure to improve the service that is currently available to the village. Port lions saw a great amount of public interest by holding the broadband forum. Community self-advocacy for digital equality can be a very powerful tool to help rural communities develop sustainable solutions for digital inclusion in rural communities.