FCC wants users to map Alaskans’ internet to improve service

a student at a computer
A 7th grade Petersburg student works on her laptop in computer class. (Angela Denning/KFSK)

Alaska’s internet connectivity 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 out more internet infrastructure, but how much will depend on how accurate Alaskans are in assessing their need.

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

The federal money stems from the year-old Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains a $42 billion appropriation for expanding broadband capacity. Each state will automatically get $100 million in the next six months, but the rest of the money will be divided up by where the most unserved and underserved populations are.

The FCC wants Alaskans to use their mobile devices to verify how fast our internet service is.

It considers an area “unserved” if there’s no broadband with speeds of at least 25 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. But that’s a nationwide standard and for Alaska, “unserved” often means no internet service at all.

Brittany Woods-Orrison is a broadband specialist in a joint position held between Native Movement and Alaska Public Interest Research Group. In a presentation last year, she explained why it matters.

“In Alaska, about 36.3% of rural Alaskans still have no wired broadband connection,” she said.

The FCC considers an area “underserved” if it does not have access to broadband of at least 100 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. That designation covers many neighborhoods in Fairbanks, as well as Interior towns like Healy, Nenana, Delta and Tok.

“The digital divide is the gap between people who do and do not have access to broadband, which is pretty severe, especially in Alaska,” Woods-Orrison said.

Rural Alaska is particularly in need, especially where there’s no access to wired low-price plans costing less than $60 a month. No rural Alaska school meets the FCC educational goals of 1 megabit per second per student.

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

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

Just over a month ago, the FCC released a draft of its new Broadband Maps, created last summer by a contractor who identified homes and businesses and the internet service associated with them. They reflect services available as of June 30.

“The mapping data is inaccurate,” Woods-Orrison said. “It is self-reported by telecoms and internet service providers, and sometimes they’ll have one person in a census block that has service and they’re able to claim the whole census block has service. So, the FCC is doing a lot of work to get more accurate mapping and figure out where the unserved and underserved communities are.”

To be more accurate, you can check your internet service yourself. And if the map is wrong, you can challenge it. 

On a “how-to” video the FCC explains:

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

Go to broadband map.fcc.gov. Type your address in the search bar and select the best match from the list that displays Your location will appear as a point on the map along with information about internet service.

Look below the map. Red locations indicate that no internet services are reported for that location. If it is not right, you can click on the “challenge” link. This will bring up a form where you can first select the provider to challenge.

Scroll down and complete the form. Select the reason for your challenge from the dropdown — sometimes a reported service is not available, or the provider wants more money than what is considered a standard installation fee to get you connected.

You can upload files, like emails or screenshots to support your challenge, or you can write a description of your experience in the form. Be sure to check the certification box at the bottom of the form and then select Submit to submit your challenge.

Both renters and homeowners can do this for their addresses before the Jan. 13 deadline.

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