Akiak’s broadband deployment marred by blackouts

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An engineer installs an antenna receiver at Lena Foss’ house 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 deployment did not go smoothly, and many villagers still lack high-speed internet. The satellite internet provider says they are still in beta testing.

Akiak chief Mike Williams Sr. said it appears the new broadband internet service only works 25 to 50 percent of the time.

“It was uneven,” he said.

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

“It went from four minutes to 40 minutes at a time and then it went down. We would lose the signal. Hamer said. “And I don’t paint a rosy picture. This first month of the initial deployment period is hectic. It’s a bad patch.

But he said hiccups are to be expected when launching a project of this magnitude.

“Anytime you do a major technology deployment, bug fixes, flaws, and software updates are absolutely necessary,” Hamer said.

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Hamer said the challenges are not unique to Akiak. The village’s broadband is transmitted by satellites owned by a company called OneWeb. November wasn’t just the launch of Akiak broadband, it was the launch of the OneWeb service worldwide. Hamer said the company experienced initial problems.

“OneWeb is working on this around the world. It’s not Akiak’s problem, ”Hamer said.

In a recent interview, OneWeb executive Chris McLaughlin confirmed there were bugs the company was fixing, but it was expected. He said November 15 was not the launch of full service, but the start of beta testing.

“Maybe something got a bit lost in the translation in ‘Nov. 15, we’re up and running,” said McLaughlin from the company’s UK headquarters. “But actually at OneWeb we did not say: “Here we are, the benchmark broadband from the 15th.”

OneWeb is rolling out bug fixes this week that they hope will improve service to Akiak, but McLaughlin doesn’t have a specific date when the company plans to move from beta testing to full service.

“Will it be in four weeks?” I would like to think so. But no one told me. So I’m just going to tell you it’s going to happen fast because it’s in everyone’s best interests to do it fast, ”McLaughlin said.

While OneWeb is in beta testing, it does not charge its customers. Likewise, Akiak does not charge residents for spotty broadband at this time. Even though OneWeb comes out of beta testing soon, Akiak will not charge residents for internet service for a full year.

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

“A lot of people might be a bit disappointed,” he said. “But we have to be very patient to resolve the issues. And I know it’s going to get better and better as we get along here.

The rest of the YK Delta will be watching closely, as dozens of communities plan to use the same broadband technology as Akiak.

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