The FCC wants users to map Alaska’s internet to improve service

A 7th-grade St. Petersburg student works on his laptop in a computer classroom. (Angela Denning/KFSK)

Alaska’s internet connection is pretty poor compared to the rest of the country. The Federal Communications Commission ranks it 42nd among states nationwide. Federal money is coming to build more internet infrastructure, but how much will depend on how well Alaskans assess their needs.

Alaskans have until Jan. 13 to confirm or correct what the FCC did last summer.

The one-year federal Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act includes $42 billion to expand broadband capacity, which will be sent over the next six months. Each state will automatically receive $100 million, but the rest of the money will be divided among the most unserved and underserved populations. The FCC wants us to use our mobile devices to test how fast our internet service is.

The FCC considers an area “unserved” if it doesn’t have broadband speeds of at least 25 megabytes per second downstream and 20 megabytes per second upstream. But that’s the nationwide standard, and for Alaska, “unserved” often means no internet service at all.

Brittany Woods-Orrison is a broadband specialist on a joint assignment between the Native Movement and the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. In a presentation last year, he explained why this is important.

“In Alaska, approximately 36.3% of rural Alaskans still do not have wired broadband,” he said.

The FCC considers an area “underserved” without broadband access of at least 100 megabytes per second downstream and 20 megabytes per second upstream. This designation includes many neighborhoods in Fairbanks, as well as inland towns such as Healy, Nenana, Delta, and Tok.

“The digital divide is the gap between people who have access to broadband and those who don’t, it’s quite serious, especially in Alaska,” Woods-Orrison said.

Rural Alaska is especially in need, where there is no access to low-cost wired plans that cost less than $60 a month. No rural Alaska school meets the FCC’s education goal of 1 megabyte per second per student.

A year ago, in preparation for this federal money, the Governor’s Broadband Task Force wrote a report on Alaska’s special needs. While the feds tout the economic benefits of better internet, the Governor’s Task Force focuses on education and health needs.

Almost 60 percent of Alaskans live in “medically underserved areas.” Broadband connects rural patients to urban care – 80 percent of Alaska’s physicians are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

More than a month ago, the FCC released a draft of new Broadband Maps created last summer by a contractor that identifies homes and businesses and their associated internet service. They reflect services available as of June 30.

“The mapping data is imprecise,” Woods-Orrison said. “It’s self-reporting by telecoms and internet providers and sometimes they’ll have one person with service in their census block and they can claim that the whole census block has service. So the FCC is doing a lot of work to get more accurate mapping and to understand where the unserved and underserved communities are.

To be more specific, you can check your internet service yourself. If the map is incorrect, you can object to it. In the “How to” video, the FCC explains:

The FCC is asking people to use a mobile device because service is more accurately measured.

Go to broadband Type your address in the search bar and select the best match from the list showing your location and it will appear as a dot on the map with information about the internet service.

See below the map. Red locations indicate that no internet service is reported for that location. If this is not correct, you can click on the “Try” link. This will bring up a form where you can select the provider to challenge first.

Scroll down and fill out the form. Select the cause of your problem from the drop-down menu — sometimes the reported service isn’t available, or the provider charges more than the standard setup fee to get you connected.

You can upload files such as email or screenshots or write a description of your experience in the form to support your issue. Make sure to check the certificate box at the bottom of the form and select Submit to submit your issue.

Both tenants and landlords have until January 13 to do so for their address.

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