The City of Kodiak has easy access to internet compared to many other rural locations in the state, but Kodiak Island’s village communities are struggling. Village residents, local Native corporations and community partners are trying to figure out how to bridge the digital gap.
Port Lions, on the North End of Kodiak Island, is home to a school, a library and a few lodges. It’s also home to Judith Clayton, who owns a bed-and-breakfast and has a background in education.
In the island communities, students often use online resources and classes to supplement their educations.
Clayton said internet connectivity is an ongoing battle for parents. She said the school and the library are the only realistic internet access points.
“I hate to even think of doing anything at home on the computer because it’s so time consuming. The speeds are just phenomenally slow,” Clayton said.
And since the school is closed during the summer, that leaves only the library for internet access for part of the year. Clayton said access there is unreliable and pricey. She said over the years, these issues took a toll on parents.
“It became very, very critical in 2011, 2012 and to where we as a community were very, very frustrated and started looking at telecommunications,” Clayton said.
Port Lions put together a broadband survey earlier in March, and Clayton said that’s when they connected with the Digital Inclusion Corps through the Alutiiq Museum in the City of Kodiak.
The museum is one of five sites in the United States participating in the federally funded program, which is aimed at building digital knowledge and broadband infrastructure in rural areas.
Development Assistant Jeff Garcie joined the staff in February to tackle the project. He said he’s been working with the island communities to assess their situations, touch base with residents, and brainstorm solutions.
“We have a very unique situation here in Kodiak because of our lack of infrastructure where other communities are facing a lack of just digital education, Garcie said. “The infrastructure’s there, the connectivity is there, and it’s just a matter of learning. We have both people who aren’t comfortable using the internet and a lack of connectivity which is causing a digital divide.”
Garcie said the microwave system on the island only goes so far. It has the ability to broadcast only a certain amount of data.
“Without upgrading the microwave system to different radios, they’re limited on how much data can be pushed through those microwave towers,” Garcie said. “Right now, that’s the big problem for the villages, is A, getting the amount of data, which would cost a lot of money to upgrade those, and B, having the infrastructure in those villages to actually broadcast that data out to the houses.”
Some communities are still working on getting a microwave tower. Garcie said Larsen Bay will install one in the fall and Karluk will follow.
Garcie said he and some local representatives have joined together under the name of Kodiak Rural Connect to think up possible solutions. Among its members are the Afognak Native Corporation, Koniag Native Corporation and Old Harbor Native Corporation.
Garcie said Kodiak Rural Connect will speak at the Kodiak Archipelago Rural Regional Leadership Forum in late September to share their ideas.