Presented by Alaska Communications
Reliable internet is a necessity of modern life. But in Alaska, not everyone has access to this crucial service.
Alaska Communications is working to change that. As it expands its fiber to the home network, the company is bringing the fastest internet in Alaska to areas of Anchorage, Fairbanks and rural communities that have long struggled with lack of connectivity.
“For me, it’s about closing the digital divide,” said Tony Dodge, senior director of architecture and planning at Alaska Communications.
“Here in Anchorage, even, there are areas that don’t have good internet,” said Dodge. “If we can bring fiber into these homes, they are going to be living a very different life.”
Dodge joined Alaska Communications in part because of its vision to expand broadband internet access. In addition to growing its current network, the company has partnered with Tribal organizations to build hundreds of miles of new fiber infrastructure in critically underserved areas of the state.
“We’re going to provide a fast, reliable, sustainable network,” said Dodge.
Alaska Communications’ fiber internet provides speeds up to 2.5 gigabits per second (Gbps). At these speeds, a full HD movie (about 4 gigabytes) can be downloaded in roughly 12 seconds.
The service is already available in parts of Anchorage, including Turnagain and Spenard, as well as pockets of Jewel Lake and the Dimond area. In Fairbanks, areas include Hamilton Acres and Aurora Subdivision.
To check eligibility, use the company’s online tool. If your address isn’t eligible yet, you can express your interest. Inquiries will help Alaska Communications plan its roll-out by neighborhood, said Dodge.
How access to broadband internet supports healthy communities
In rural communities, incomes increase and unemployment falls after gaining internet access; a full two-thirds of rural jobs are created by small businesses that use ecommerce. Broadband internet also allows for use of telehealth, which can improve health outcomes, especially in rural areas.
In contrast, lack of access means missed opportunities for jobs, education and growth, for both individuals and communities.
“It’s a utility. It should be available to people just like water and plumbing,” Dodge said.
Fiber internet is fast and reliable thanks to fiber-optic technology that transmits data through thin, flexible glass fibers in a casing about the width of a number two pencil. Fiber has a nearly unlimited data capacity compared to older technologies such as cable modem and DSL internet. Fiber is also more reliable and faster than satellite options.
Alaska Communications’ fiber to the home network differs from other hybrid fiber networks in that it extends the fiber to each individual building. With other hybrid fiber networks, homes are connected to the fiber line via a copper cable, and multiple homes share the same line, so speeds may fluctuate.
With a direct fiber connection, uploads and downloads remain stable and strong. Speeds remain consistent regardless of how many devices are connected to the home network.
‘Obsessed with uploads’: What are upload and download speeds?
Scott Jensen is a longtime videographer and Alaska journalist. Over the last five years, Jensen has built Jensen Hall Creative, a media production company based in Anchorage.
The company focused on documentaries initially, but that changed in March 2020 when pandemic shutdowns began. Jensen’s projects were canceled. In their place came requests to manage live streams.
As more community events shifted online, Jensen’s budding second business flourished.
Today, he manages Tudor Road Studios, a full-service livestream and video production facility run out of a 2,000-square-foot office and studios near Lake Otis Boulevard and Tudor Road. The company also produces live video coverage of events outside its studio.
Fiber to the home internet was installed in their West Anchorage house in 2022. Jensen noticed immediately that his upload speed was “dramatically higher,” he said.
“Because of the live stream business, I’ve kind of become obsessed with upload and download speeds, especially upload,” he said.
Upload speed refers to how fast information is sent from your computer. It is crucial for activities like video conferencing and home camera systems. Download speed refers to how quickly you receive data to your computer, for instance, when streaming television.
For gaming, both upload and download speeds are important. When you have 2.5 gigabits available, as with fiber to the home, “games will feel like they’re happening in real-time,” said Dodge.
Increased upload speeds have given Jensen a competitive edge. Soon after fiber internet was installed at his home, a national production company reached out. The team was filming in Southcentral Alaska and asked if he could upload high-resolution videos to their server at the end of each day.
“They wanted it super-fast, within an hour of finishing the filming,” Jensen said.
He told them he just had fiber internet installed. “They asked me what the speeds were, and while I don’t remember those exactly — I remember their reaction,” said Jensen.
Impressed, the team gave him the job. High-resolution videos consume massive amount of storage space, potentially as much as a terabyte.
For three days, Jensen uploaded the hard drives. It took less than an hour each time.
“It was faster than I’d ever seen,” he said.
The service also allows him to adapt if in-person events are rerouted online. He can simply originate the live streams at home.
“I have that peace of mind,” Jensen said. “You don’t have to sit there and worry about your infrastructure, and you can focus more on the creative side of things and the business side of things.”
Alaska FiberOptic Project will ‘truly transform’ more than 20 communities
Alaska Communications is a key partner in the Alaska FiberOptic Project, which will bring fiber internet to communities on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, considered some of the most underserved regions in the nation.
“People talk about the digital divide all around the United States, but it really comes into focus in rural Alaska,” said Dodge.
Thousands of rural Alaskans will gain access to broadband internet thanks to the project, which involves the careful laying of more than 600 miles of fiber cable, much of it underwater.
In the last three years, Alaska Communications and Calista Corporation, Doyon Limited, Tanana Chiefs Conference and Gana-A ‘Yoo Limited submitted grant funding applications to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and United States Department of Agriculture ReConnect Program to install a fiber-optic network to 23 communities.
“Currently, there is no true broadband access for the entire Calista region,” which is roughly the size of New York State, said Calista Corporation Vice President of Corporate Affairs Thomas Leonard.
For the project, Alaska Communications will operate fiber-optic cable from Fairbanks north to the Yukon River, upstream to Stevens, Beaver and Fort Yukon, then further to Circle, Venetie and Chalkyitsik. Downstream, the fiber cable will connect from Rampart to Holy Cross, where it will divert into the Kuskokwim River, winding from Upper Kalskag to Napakiak.
Three of the four segments are already funded. Once the three segments are completed in 2026, 15 communities will have fiber optic internet in every home, school, business and organization.
Doyon received the grant to connect segment one from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon and Tanana.
“This project will truly transform and benefit our region,” said Doyon Sr. Vice President of External Affairs, Sarah Obed. “Whether pursuing educational opportunities, accessing financial information, or applying for jobs, “life today is online,” she said. “People are really excited about this.”
In addition, Alaska Communications will provide the service at rates comparable to urban areas, said Obed. That’s crucial in rural Alaska, where costs can be prohibitive.
Calista Corporation received the grant to connect segment three, from Holy Cross to Napakiak.
Life will improve for residents in many ways, said Leonard. For example, students can engage in remote learning; artists and craft makers can sell their goods online and support their families; and communities will have access to life-saving information during natural disasters.
“I talked about this with my two kids, who are in elementary school,” he said. “And seeing the brightness in their eyes, the realization of the importance of the work that I’m doing — It’s a very, very personal project for me.”
For communities across the state, accessing broadband internet can be a life-changing experience. Alaska Communications will continue to help make that happen.
“We want to be the internet provider of the future for all of Alaska,” Dodge said.
Alaska Communications seeks to be the provider of choice, transforming quality of life and commerce and connecting Alaskans to the world.
This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Alaska Communications. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.