Perspectives on Business and Economics, Vol. 40

25 has recently signed a deal with OneWeb to utilize their LEO satellites across Alaska (Mann, 2021). This will allow customers of Alaska Communications to have access to high-speed satellite internet using OneWeb’s satellites, greatly increasing the strength and reliability of internet in rural locations. In addition, Alaska Communications will utilize the OneWeb constellation when developing new high-speed base stations on the ground throughout Alaska, allowing expansion of ground infrastructure like fiber-optic cables and microwave towers across the state. The goal of this project is to increase internet connectivity across traditionally underserved regions as well as enhance the ground infrastructure necessary to support the continual growth of LEO satellite internet services. Another major telecommunication company in Alaska, GCI Communication, also has a project in progress to expand internet connectivity down the Aleutian chain. This chain of islands is off the southwest coast of Alaska and extends into the Pacific Ocean, making it difficult terrain for building traditional internet infrastructure. To support this venture, GCI has received a federal grant of $25M to lay a fiber-optic cable to the islands, significantly increasing internet availability across the chain. With fiber-optic cables connecting only some of the islands, microwave towers become available to continue the connection throughout the islands and across the water to other nearby islands. The goal of this project is to provide these Aleutian communities with the internet strength and reliability they need in order to meet online education and business needs (GCI, 2020). Conclusion It is clear that the current internet infrastructure across the state of Alaska is lacking. As communications shift online, the importance of internet connectivity grows. In addition, with the need for virtual education expanding, it is vital that towns and villages in Alaska, especially in rural areas, have strong internet access to support online learning opportunities. These factors highlight the value a broadband connection can provide to all communities in Alaska, emphasizing the significance of expanding internet infrastructure in Alaska. Technologies offer several different types of internet infrastructure—whether fiber-optic cables, microwave towers, satellites, or cellular broadband—and each of these has been utilized in different ways across Alaska. Fiber-optic cables are expensive but provide high-speed internet. Microwave towers and satellites provide remote access in rural locations but are affected by the weather. Finally, cellular broadband provides wide areas with wireless internet but suffers from problems with data limits. Using a combination of these technologies, the internet connectivity problem in Alaska can be solved. Unfortunately, even though advanced broadband technology is available, Alaska faces many obstacles that make deploying this technology difficult and costly. With such a large geographical footprint and a spread-out population, formulating broadband infrastructure to serve the entire area is especially challenging. In addition, much of that land is mountainous, has permafrost, and can be worked on only in the summer. Utilizing this land also faces political problems, with most of it owned by the state and federal governments, making permits and regulations difficult and complicated. Finally, there are few to no data surrounding internet connectivity across the state, which makes identifying areas of need and measuring impact difficult. The culmination of these barriers is an unattractive and unprofitable investment location for telecommunication companies. To overcome these challenges, the current infrastructure in Alaska uses a hybrid system of fiber-optic cables and microwave towers. Fiber-optic cables provide the backbone of the system, serving the cities and those towns situated along the major roads. Microwave towers branch off to support nearby smaller towns and villages. In addition, LEO satellite companies like SpaceX and OneWeb are beginning to expand into Alaska. These LEO satellites can help provide rural areas, reachable only by boats or planes, with high-speed internet access that has considerably better speeds than those available from GEO satellites. Despite the communications infrastructure in Alaska having met some of Alaska’s challenges, the internet connectivity problem still exists in many areas of the state. Alaska is taking three paths to address this problem.