Perspectives on Business and Economics, Vol. 40

23 This is due to the distance these satellites are from the surface of the earth. Starlink satellites usually sit around 340 miles above the surface (Starlink, 2022) while OneWeb satellites orbit at 750 miles above the surface (OneWeb, 2022). The greater distance from the surface means that OneWeb satellites cover a larger geographic area than Starlink satellites, resulting in fewer satellites required in the constellation. This greater distance, however, has a tradeoff of higher latency. When these two companies have finished their constellations, that completion will greatly change internet connectivity in Alaska. Challenges Alaska is unique in its combination of obstacles for internet connectivity. Its first major problem is geography. Including mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, and wetlands, Alaska’s diverse topography makes it difficult to develop internet infrastructure. Also, in the northern half of the state, a condition called permafrost keeps the ground frozen year-round, making it difficult and expensive to dig and lay broadband cables. These attributes make implementing fiber-optic cables or microwave towers a major barrier to infrastructure development that largely does not exist in the lower 48 states. These costs become even higher due to the short spring–summer construction window, which lasts just five to six months; once it starts snowing and the temperature drops, the weather becomes too treacherous to build. Not only does Alaska have formidable geography but also it covers a large area with a small population. Sparse population is a major problem for internet infrastructure. Because broadband technology serves a specific area, it is beneficial to have high population density, which means less technology is required to service those residents. However, in Alaska, with the lowest population density in the United States (US Census Bureau, 2021), more technology and funding are required to provide internet to its residents, further complicating the development process. In addition to the rough geography and sparse population, most land in Alaska is owned by the state and federal governments. These entities make it difficult for private companies to acquire permits and comply with regulations when completing a construction project, like developing broadband infrastructure. This problem makes it costly for a telecommunication company to lay wire or construct towers over large areas, a real disincentive to productive development. Therefore, with combined harsh climate, extreme geography, sparse population, and complex regulations, internet infrastructure is a major challenge in Alaska. Another obstacle in Alaska is the lack of information surrounding internet connectivity. The state does not keep an updated map of broadband accessibility statewide, so any internet statistics are reliant on nationally collected data, primarily from the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Unfortunately, many of these data are not accurate or applicable in Alaska. For example, the FCC Fourteenth Broadband Deployment Report (2021), which evaluates the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, states that 85.2% of Alaskans have access to terrestrial broadband speeds of 25-Mbps download and 3-Mbps upload. This information is gathered using Form 477, which states that if a single household in a census block meets the minimum internet speed criteria, the entire census block is served. For states with small, 0.1-mile census blocks, this method is relatively accurate. However, for a state like Alaska, which has some of the largest census blocks across the entire United States and a population density nearly 100 times less than the nation’s average, this method becomes inaccurate. Thus, the 85.2% number, in the previous example, vastly overestimates the actual percentage of Alaskans with adequate bandwidth. Solutions Three different approaches are under way to solve the internet problem in Alaska. First, as a result of COVID-19 and other broadband funding opportunities, Alaska has received federal grants that will contribute to development of internet infrastructure across the state. In addition, the state government has dedicated some funds to broadband technology. Second, Alaska created a Broadband Task Force to develop statewide goals and a plan for internet expansion, especially into rural areas. Third,