Internet improvements bode well for location-neutral workers in Haines

Gene Cornelius is a stock footage videographer based in Haines. (Photo: Emily Files)

A number of Haines residents make a living with “location-neutral” jobs. For many of those people, a reliable internet connection is essential for their work. So in January, when Alaska Power and Telephone rolled out new internet packages following its Lynn Canal fiber optic project, internet-reliant workers were paying attention.

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Gene Cornelius is a stock footage videographer. He films everything from sunsets to trucks driving by and hopes someone creating an advertisement or documentary will pay a few hundred bucks to use his clips.

“I would call this a home office, that’s my kitchen table but there’s no kitchen involved, it’s covered in gear,” Cornelius said. “We’ve got 2 HD monitors, there’s a 5K monitor laptop that’s usually cranking out raw video.”

On a recent afternoon, Cornelius types ‘slow motion eagle’ into the search box to pull up one of his most successful clips.

“This was a lucky, lucky shot,” Cornelius said. “In Homer, there was an eagle sitting on the dumpster.”

You don’t see the dumpster in the clip, just the eagle. It looks to the camera and then flies away in slow motion.

“This particular clip has sold 39 times,” Cornelius said.

But for every clip like this that sells well, there are a lot that no one buys. That’s why for stock videographers, quantity is important.

“You have to constantly be putting more media up,” Cornelius said. “It’s called feeding the beast.”

And that has been one of Cornelius’ biggest challenges in Haines. Uploading video from the camera to the computer takes time with any internet connection. But here, upload speeds are more limited. When Cornelius heard AP&T’s newly-installed fiber-optic cable would improve internet packages, he had high hopes. Then the company announced the details.

“I was a little bit livid,” Cornelius said.

The new offerings significantly increased data caps and download speeds. But upload speeds stayed the same, at one Megabit. Cornelius said it does make sense that they focused on download speeds, because that’s what most people use internet for: streaming video, not uploading it.

“We are a society of consumers,” Cornelius said. “I mean, here I am making media, but I also consume it.”

Cornelius was upset at first, but he said AP&T has been working with him. Later this year, they’re going to install a new modem at his home that he said should double his upload speeds.

While Cornelius wasn’t thrilled with the new offerings, other Haines internet-reliant workers like Andrew Del Prete have been satisfied. Del Prete is a web developer who works for a Texas-based company.

“It was just a breath of fresh air for us,” Del Prete said,

Del Prete’s job is somewhat related to what Cornelius does; he works on websites that host stock music and video. He said with his old internet package, the data cap was an issue.

“I was going over my internet cap every month,” Del Prete said. “We had the highest plan at 8 megs down, 1 meg up and 80 gigs a month. We were pretty much going over that every time. That put a burden on the finances and didn’t allow the kids to watch Netflix or do extracurricular stuff on the internet other than me working.”

When AP&T rolled out new packages in January, Del Prete’s speeds tripled and the data cap increased exponentially. Now he’s able to videoconference with his colleagues in Texas without worrying.

“I think having faster, more reliable internet will be able to bring a different type of person here,” Del Prete said. “I think having this is another way of bringing people in.”

James Alborough, a web designer based in Haines, agreed.

“The speeds are faster, the price is lower,” Alborough said. “I think anyone who wanted to move to Haines to do the type of work I do would have no problem doing it.”

Alborough said people moving from the Lower 48 to Haines may still have sticker shock when they see how much internet costs.

“But, you know, we live in the middle of nowhere,” Alborough said. “So just having service that enables us to function, to me that’s a win.”

Attracting more location-neutral workers to Haines is one of the goals listed in the borough’s comprehensive plan. With better internet, that aspiration may be closer to reality.

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Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.