As I flew over Larsen Bay in the single propeller Cessna I immediately noticed the new microwave tower in the center of town. The tower is new since last fall when I had flown in to go fishing near the village. I walked over to see the new construction. The fencing lay on the freshly graveled lot waiting to be installed to keep the wildlife from damaging the tower. Like the other villages, Larsen Bay has struggled to connect and over the past few years and the necessity to improve their service has been glaringly apparent. I saw a myriad of different types of satellites mounted to the sides of the homes. They have, to date, been the means of connection for the village. I spoke with some of the residents about the service provided by the satellites and my assumption that some connection is better than no connection seemed quite presumptuous. The news of DSL internet with speeds of 4.5 Mbps is a refreshing thought for the community. Alaska Communications plans to have their DSL service available this fall to the residents of Larsen Bay. Although the instillation of the Kodiak Microwave System tower is a huge win for the community, it also brings new challenges and concerns.
When I spoke with the residents and businesses about the instillation of the tower and the implementation of consumer DSL everyone seemed to be glad that the service will soon be available. The DSL connection will be dramatically better than the satellite services currently offered but, it will still have significant limitations when compared to cable or fiber optic Internet connections that are available in more urban locations. Although DSL is a great benefit to the community, digital equity, access, and support remain as significant challenges.
The Library in Larsen Bay does not host a public wireless connection like the neighboring village, Port Lions. This could be due to the dramatically smaller library and the absence of a librarian. The school had previously hosted a public access WiFi connection via the GCI School Access satellite but the facilities were being abused after hours and the public connection was turned off. The lack of a media center or public access WiFi connection leaves the village at an educational disadvantage. Could the instillation of the microwave tower catalyze the establishment of a public media center? As part of the Kodiak Rural Connect initiative we are addressing how communities can help support broadband adoption on the Kodiak Archipelago.