Guttenberg pushes for broadband expansion in Fairbanks area
FAIRBANKS — At his first constituency meeting since returning home after a final legislative session in Juneau, Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg, of Fairbanks, focused on an issue quite separate from the state budget or tax reform. It’s one that has long plagued the outlying neighborhoods of Fairbanks — reliable internet.
“I have had legislation in the past two cycles to create a broadband corporation that would build out the gaps between these private sector providers,” Guttenberg said. “They’re not doing things that we need.”
The central issue, as Guttenberg identified, is inconsistent coverage across the Fairbanks area.
“There are gaps all over Fairbanks between this service plan and that service plan and it’s creating inefficiencies,” he said. “If they don’t want to fix it, maybe we will.”
In a presentation, Guttenberg explained several options for creating the infrastructure needed to bring high-speed internet to households across the Interior. The most reliable, he said, is fiber optic cable.
“I’ve talked to a lot of different companies and a lot of different people,” Guttenberg said. “You’re never going to need more than fiber. There’s nothing faster than fiber. It’s the most reliable, the least impacted by weather and conditions and it’s an infrastructure that once it’s in place, it’s there, it’s done.”
The need for more reliable high-speed internet across the Fairbanks area struck a chord among community members in the audience, many of whom shared personal stories of their own struggles with internet access. Guttenberg said he deals with these same struggles in his own neighborhood.
“There are 20 houses in my neighborhood out in Goldstream and none of us have consistent service,” Guttenberg said. “So I thought, ‘What if I create my own infrastructure?
What happens if I run fiber from my house to the rest of the neighborhood and into town and hook up everybody along the way and hook up right around the university where I know the big providers come in for the supercomputer?'”
After some research, Guttenberg said he and his staff quickly realized this is happening across the country.
“There are 53 electric co-ops in the country that are already doing this,” Guttenberg said. “So I went into Golden Valley. I talked to the vice presidents. I said here is a plan, here is an option.”
As it turns out, Golden Valley Electric Association, Fairbanks’ central electrical co-op, previously signed a noncompete clause with AlasConnect, a smaller company providing cellular and internet service to outlying areas in the Matanuska area.
“Golden Valley can’t directly get involved unless we get out of this noncompete thing,” Gary Newman, a member of the GVEA board, said. Like many in the audience, Newman agrees there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
“Basically where I see the issue is that internet is not considered a necessary service by FCC regulations and as a result the telecom companies and those providing can pretty much do whatever they want,” Newman said. After some discussion, the idea of creating a community co-op was brought up with resounding support from community members who soon began exchanging email addresses and ideas for business plans.
Guttenberg said this is why he believes Fairbanks could achieve this goal.
“I was watching the tail end of a TED talk last week, and the subject was how to succeed.
It wasn’t about education, it wasn’t about economic base, but the psychologist said ‘Grit is what prevails,'” Guttenberg said. “I think this community has grit. I think it’s been suffering long enough for something that’s a basic function of society right now. And I think we need to pick one of the balls up and go with it.”
Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544.
Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.