Tononac residents share what it’s like to live in rural Alaska without the internet

Tununak, Alaska (Andrew Banas/Creative Commons)

When a fire broke out at the Tununak Laundry in February, people were left without an easy place to wash clothes. The fire also damaged the community’s internet infrastructure, causing outages in half of the village.

Without the internet, residents say it would have been difficult to carry out daily tasks such as uploading documents or ordering necessities online. It makes it difficult for people to do their jobs.

“I don’t have an internet connection or email,” said Alvina Whitman, who started a new job in March as an Indian childcare worker. “I feel like I’m missing a lot.”

Whitman said she missed important meetings and training sessions for her new job. This has affected the children she is working to protect.

She missed the Office of Children’s Services hearings, where decisions are made about whether a child should be taken out of their parents’ care. She said that due to outages, she can only find out about sessions through mail.

Not only did Whitman lose the internet in her office, but she also lost it in her home. She can access the internet through her phone’s data plan, but she said the service is spotty and slow. She said this makes it more difficult for her to order essentials online.

“Sometimes I forget to order or end up not ordering because the internet is so slow,” Whitman said.

Once, she wasn’t able to order diapers for her baby. It ran out and she ended up buying a pack of Bethel, which was about $60 more expensive than the internet.

According to GCI, the internet outage affected five businesses and 12 homes in Tununak. But Xavier Post, the tribal official in Tununak, said that has already affected about 45 homes. That’s more than half of the community.

The internet is also out in the tribal administrator’s office. It makes his job more difficult. He spends a lot of time using the internet to file financial reports and apply for grants, but he said the tribe may have missed grant deadlines.

We are deferring our reports. It is very frustrating. “The internet that we have now, it takes up most of our day,” Post said.

Each task requires two or three times the usual amount of time. He avoids having no internet at work by sending pictures of the tribe’s financial documents to a counselor in Fairbanks, or by pulling his work computers home and using his personal internet.

GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside said it’s where the Post comes from.

“I can certainly understand why people are frustrated. I know communication is, you know, a need. She said.

She says the company is working on getting the internet back, and workers could be in Tununak by the end of the week. But Post said the GCI has told them they will be there by the end of the week since February.

Handyside said the company has been waiting for a telegram for months. Now they are waiting for professional technicians to install it. She said both slowdowns were caused by general supply chain issues and increased broadband demand.

“Unfortunately, a large part of this is, you know, the main equipment we need — it was out of our hands,” Handyside said.

Handyside said residents without internet were not charged during this time period. She said that if there are residents who do not have internet and have been charged, they should contact the GCI.

In addition to waiting online, Tununak is also still waiting for a makeshift washing machine from Alaska. The internet outage slowed communications with the state. Tribe manager Xavier Post said this is a last-ditch purchase of the washing machine, but he’s still hoping to get it sometime this summer.