• After Broadband: A Study of Organizational Use of Broadband in Southwest Alaska

      Hudson, Heather E.; Sharp, Suzanne; Hill, Alexandra (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2015-06-01)
      The purpose of this research was to gain a preliminary understanding of how organizations including large and small businesses, Native corporations and organizations, and local and regional governments are using broadband that is now available in much of southwest Alaska. To learn about community access to broadband, interviews were also conducted with library and school staff in communities where broadband had been installed under the OWL (Online with Libraries) program. Further, the study identifies research from other sources that could help to predict what socio-economic impacts the availability and adoption of broadband may have in rural Alaska. Financial institutions use online connections for teller services and credit and debit card processing, and stated that more people in rural communities now have debit cards that they can use for online purchases and bill paying. Large retailers use online services for payroll, for pointof-sale (POS) transactions, and online ordering. Seafood processors rely heavily on connectivity with their head offices (generally in the lower 48) for administrative services including payroll, accounting, shipping and receiving, purchasing, and ERP (enterprise resource planning), and access data base software to track fish tickets. Seafood processors also provide Internet access for their employees, most of whom are seasonal and from other states or countries. Tourism businesses use broadband for online reservation systems and for guests, who increasingly demand connectivity even for remote vacations. Village corporations and tribal councils use online services to help their residents obtain hunting and fishing licenses and fishing permits, to learn about funding opportunities, and to file reports on grants. Local Governments connect online for interoffice communications and for payroll and other administrative functions. Other online applications and services include providing remote desktop access from other agency sites, use of online tools for land management and mapping, training including webinars for workforce development, and providing access to social services for clients. An economic development organization sends newsletters to communities electronically and packets of documents to its board members rather than relying on fax or courier. Websites are important for tourism-related businesses to advertise and promote their businesses and for nonprofits and local governments to provide information about their services. 5 Broadband now plays many roles in rural education. Most students are required to use the Internet for class assignments. High school students can connect to classes in advanced subjects in other communities, and may complete online courses for college credit. Libraries remain important locations for community access, with residents going online to connect with friends on Facebook, as well as to download content for e-books, file income tax, and apply for jobs and government benefits. School and library Wi-Fi provides access inside and near the buildings for residents with smartphones. Despite enthusiasm for broadband and the adoption of many broadband-based applications and services, most organizations interviewed identified problems with broadband, particularly with the pricing, stating that the terrestrial broadband network is too costly for them to take full advantage of online services and applications. While the scope of this study was too limited to estimate long-term benefits, it found that broadband is highly valued and increasingly important to businesses and nonprofit organizations and local governments in southwest Alaska. Broadband helps businesses to be more efficient in their operations and to extend their reach to new customers and suppliers. It also helps to improve the effectiveness of public sector services such as those provided by borough and city governments and extends access to education and training. Broadband is also likely to be an important component of strategies to develop ecotourism and other ecosystem services.
    • Digital Diversity: Broadband and Indigenous Populations in Alaska

      Hudson, Heather E. (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2011-05)
      Alaska Natives comprise several cultural and linguistic groups including Inupiat, Yupik, Athabascan, Aleut, Tlingit and Haida, organized into some 226 tribes. Approximately two-thirds of the indigenous population live in more than 200 rural villages, most of which are remote settlements with fewer than 200 people and no road access. Since the late 1970’s, all communities with at least 25 permanent residents have had telephone service, but broadband connectivity remains limited. The major mechanism for extending Internet access to rural Alaska has been federal universal service funds, specifically the E-rate program that subsidizes Internet access for schools and libraries, and the Rural Health program that subsidizes connectivity for rural health clinics and hospitals. Under the federal Stimulus program, Alaska has also recently received funding for infrastructure to extend broadband in southwest Alaska, for improved connectivity for rural libraries, and for training and support for rural public computer centers. These initiatives primarily support improvements in Internet and broadband availability for rural Alaska. However, this paper proposes a more rigorous framework including not only availability, but more broadly access, and also adoption, and examines how these concepts apply to Alaska natives. The paper also examines other elements of digital diversity, including innovation in applications and content, ICT entrepreneurship, and participation in telecommunications policy-making.
    • Toward Universal Broadband in Rural Alaska

      Hudson, Heather E.; Hanna, Virgene; Hill, Alexandra; Parker, Khristy; Sharp, Suzanne; Spiers, Kent; Wark, Kyle (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2012-11)
      The TERRA-Southwest project is extending broadband service to 65 communities in the Bristol Bay, Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim regions. A stimulus project funded by a combination of grants and loans from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), TERRA-Southwest has installed a middle-mile network using optical fiber and terrestrial microwave. Last-mile service will be through fixed wireless or interconnection with local telephone networks. The State of Alaska, through its designee Connect Alaska, also received federal stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for tasks that include support for an Alaska Broadband Task Force “to both formalize a strategic broadband plan for the state of Alaska and coordinate broadband activities across relevant agencies and organizations.” Thus, a study of the impact of the TERRA project in southwest Alaska is both relevant and timely. This first phase provides baseline data on current access to and use of ICTs and Internet connectivity in rural Alaska, and some insights about perceived benefits and potential barriers to adoption of broadband. It is also intended to provide guidance to the State Broadband Task Force in determining how the extension of broadband throughout the state could contribute to education, social services, and economic activities that would enhance Alaska’s future. Results of the research could also be used proactively to develop strategies to encourage broadband adoption, and to identify applications and support needed by users with limited ICT skills.