I am an Alaskan. When I share with others that I grew up in Alaska I would get questions like, “Did you live in an igloo?” and “Did you take a sled dog to school?” As funny as that seems now to me, Alaska in most areas, this is not too big of a stretch of the imagination. Well, except for living in an igloo.
There are two types of communities in Alaska “on the road” and everywhere else. A community being on the road means you can drive to that community from, say, Oklahoma, if you have time, gasoline and determination. Everything else, for the most part, is in “the Bush”. The vast majority of the state’s communities are in rural or remote Alaska. To get to the Bush, you have to fly or take a boat. Although some communities have a local system of roads they are not connected to the rest of the roads in the state, or North America, for that matter. Most villages, however, are only accessible by aircraft.
With a state larger than the combined area of Texas, California, and Montana, Alaska’s largest school district educates almost 48,000 students and encompasses almost 2,000 square miles. Its smallest district educates a little fewer than 1,900 students but encompasses 94,800 square miles. Bringing broadband to those students creates challenges that are unique to Alaska.
While E-rate reform is needed, Alaska shows us the danger that could come with “one size fits all” solutions. Applicants in Alaska require technological neutrality, as well as the freedom to put together custom solutions which satisfy their unique need. The Funds For Learning E-rate 2.0 Proposal enables Alaska’s schools to choose solutions that best suit their unique needs, while also recognizing – and accommodating – the higher costs associated with broadband deployment in remote rural areas.
For the adventurous at heart, Alaska offers many exciting and challenging experiences that are not available in the lower United States. In the spirit of Alaska’s nickname it truly is a land of The Last Frontier.