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Rollout of Akiak's broadband project runs into glitches and outages

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Katie Basile
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An engineer installs an antenna receiver in Lena Foss’ home on October 19, 2021 in Akiak, Alaska.

On Nov. 15, Akiak made history as the first community in the Y-K Delta to install broadband internet in every home. But many in the village are still unconnected to high-speed internet, as the rollout of the broadband system has not been smooth. The satellite internet provider says that they’re still in beta testing.

Akiak Chief Mike Williams Sr. said that the new broadband internet service installed last month is only working part of the time.

“Twenty-five to 50% of the time that I've noticed when I tried, but it has been spotty so I haven't really tracked it,” Williams Sr. said.

Kevin Hamer, the CEO and President of Akiak Technology, the tribally owned company the village created to manage its broadband, said that 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 that these hiccups are to be expected during the launch of a project this large.

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

Hamer said that the bugs are not local 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, and Hamer said that the company has been working through initial kinks.

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

OneWeb executive Chris McLaughlin called KYUK from the company’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. He confirmed that 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,’” McLaughlin said. “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,” Williams Sr. 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.

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