Akiak’s broadband rollout marred by outages

A man installs an antenna receiver inside.
An engineer installs an antenna receiver in Lena Foss’ home on October 19, 2021 in Akiak. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

Akiak made history last month as the first community in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to install broadband internet in every home. But the rollout has not been smooth, and many in the village still don’t have high-speed internet. The satellite internet provider says that they’re still in beta testing.

Akiak Chief Mike Williams Sr. said it seems like the new broadband internet service is only working maybe 25% to 50% of the time.

“It has been spotty,” he said.

Kevin Hamer, the CEO and President of Akiak Technology, the tribally -owned company the village created to manage its broadband, said there have been periods when residents have been able to use high-speed internet, but they have been brief.

“It has been up for anywhere from four minutes to 40 minutes at a time, then it would go down. We would lose signal.” Hamer said. “And I’m not painting a rosy picture. This first month of initial rollout period is choppy. It’s a rough patch.”

But he said the hiccups are to be expected during the launch of such a major project.

“Anytime you do a major technology rollout, there’s absolutely bug fixes, defects, software updates needed,” Hamer said.

RELATED: Erosion is threatening Napakiak’s school and some students are already leaving

Hamer said the challenges aren’t unique to Akiak. The village’s broadband is beamed in by satellites owned by a company called OneWeb. November wasn’t just the launch of Akiak’s broadband, it was the launch of OneWeb’s service worldwide. Hamer said the company has been working through initial kinks.

“OneWeb is working this worldwide. It’s not an Akiak issue,” Hamer said.

In a recent interview, OneWeb executive Chris McLaughlin confirmed there are bugs the company is working out, but that was expected. He said that Nov. 15 wasn’t the launch of full service, but the start of beta testing.

“Perhaps something got a bit lost in translation into, ‘Nov. 15, we’re up and running,’” said McLaughlin from the company’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. “But actually, we at OneWeb have not said, ‘Here we are, gold standard broadband from the 15th.’”

OneWeb is rolling out some bug fixes this week that it hopes will improve service in Akiak, but McLaughlin does not have a specific date that the company plans to move out of beta testing and into full service.

“Will that be within four weeks? I’d like to think so. But I haven’t been told that. So I will just tell you, it will be happening fast because it’s in everybody’s interest to make it happen fast,” McLaughlin said.

While OneWeb is in beta testing, it is not charging its customers. Similarly, Akiak is not charging residents for the spotty broadband right now. Even if OneWeb moves out of beta testing soon, Akiak will not charge residents for internet service for a full year.

Williams Sr. said that the slow start is all part of the process.

“A lot of people might be a little disappointed,” he said. “But we have to be very patient in getting the glitches worked out. And I know that it’s going to get better and better as we move along here.”

The rest of the Y-K Delta will be watching closely, as dozens of communities are planning to use the same broadband technology as Akiak.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Previous articleTalk of Alaska: The misinformation pandemic
Next articleAlaska seeks private operators to fill gaps in winter ferry schedule