My friend Alvin, who knows me from my digital inclusion work in the village of Port Lions, asked me what I thought was the best choice for an Internet plan for his family. The list of plans he showed me on his iPhone was heart breaking. The village had had high hopes for the telecom’s new upgrade. Unfortunately, the rollout of the new plan will not only continue to be unaffordable but slow by any reasonable standards of measure. As an advocate for digital inclusion, how do I recommend any of these listed plans as a good option to my friend? When does the need for the service outweigh the price? What is given up for the family when they are facing the decision to spend over $100 a month for dial up speeds with data caps?
As best as I can tell, the service is better. One community member said, “It is way faster than it was before!” When using a satellite/Earth station system with two seconds of latency and speeds at 516 KbPS you have to set your expectations pretty low. I joked to Alvin that at least they provided a phone number so he wouldn’t have to go through the struggle of trying to sign up for a new plan online.
The frustrations that rural communities face with their regional telecommunication companies is very apparent. As the Internet becomes more and more necessary for things that were done on paper in the past like, filing for hunting and subsistence permits from the State of Alaska, taking online classes or doing taxes, the need for access increases. Regretfully, this need is not met by the telecommunication companies due to the high cost and low rate of return for infrastructure buildout to rural villages. This leads to the community being forced to take the problem into their own hands and self-provision their own network, a difficult and daunting task for a small community.