The Southeast Alaska Regional Tribal Government will pilot its new broadband Internet program in Wrangell, which it says will eventually be available to everyone on the island.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission opened a special program to allow rural tribes to obtain broadband licenses to improve connectivity. Hundreds of tribes applied, over a third of them in Alaska.
The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced on December 17 that it had obtained its license. The FCC has granted the regional tribe exclusive use of half-band broadband spectrum in a number of communities in Southeast Alaska.
Chris Cropley, one of the tribal council’s network architects, says the license is for 2.5 gigahertz spectrum: the same technology used by LTE cell phone networks.
“We’re starting at Wrangell,” Cropley said. “Perfect – it’s the Goldilocks, as they say. He has it all. We have a lot of people there, relatively we have the 2.5 [GHz spectrum] there, and we have the funding for that.
The tribe calls its broadband service Tidal Network. It will just be home internet, not mobile data service. But it will still have to build its own towers, so that wireless internet can be delivered directly to homes and businesses that don’t already have reliable internet access.
“Wherever it’s already served, we’re not interested in serving,” Cropley said. “So if you have a cable modem in your house, fiber optic in your house, if you have good service in your house, or if you are downtown, we’re not really interested in replacing that with something else.” thing. We’re not looking to replace GCI or ACS or AT&T or whoever.
Wrangell is ideal as there are people with uneven service, but it’s not such a remote community that the tribe would have a hard time bringing people and supplies to town. Cropley said residents living towards the southern end of the 14-mile stretch of the Zimovia Expressway would be good candidates for Tidal Network.
Once the service is in place, the Tlingit & Haida will have to ‘defend’ it, which means that they must provide Internet service to 80% of the population of the region within the first two years after holding the license, and full coverage after five years. . But that doesn’t mean people have to accept the new supplier’s offer.
The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska began work to reclaim its license in 2019. And federal pandemic assistance it has since received will help fund the project.
“We buy two what we call COWs – cells on wheels,” he said. “These are towers on a trailer with a generator and a little cabinet underneath, and they expand. We are able to stand them up, and they have radio microwaves on them and they accept fiber optic and we can wire them or wireless them and start providing service on those towers.
Permanent towers can cost $ 500,000 to $ 600,000 each and come with miles of paperwork.
The pieces are already in place to start now, however. Cropley said he has a multi-million dollar budget for Wrangell for the broadband pilot, but declined to say specifically how much.
Once the details are sorted out, Tidal Network will work in Wrangell as a subscription service with different plans just like any other ISP. The goal is to provide the best possible Internet at the lowest possible price.
“We’re just looking to find the most people with the least or no Internet, ideally, and provide them with Internet where they didn’t have it before, where they had to use satellite,” he said. -he declares.
Wrangell’s pilot project is just that: a test. This will help flesh out the program – from the technology itself, to working with other vendors, to policies and training for Tidal Network employees.
The process will take time and investment.
“There’s a reason someone isn’t doing this already, is there?” Said Cropley. “There’s no gold mine down the road here. It is a service.
Cropley says they hope the tidal network will be up and running by spring 2022. And after piloting the program in Wrangell, the service could expand to more than 20 other communities in Southeast Alaska in coming years.