FNSB COVID

A public computer lab for job seekers was open and busy with people spacing themselves every other workstation at the State Office Building in Fairbanks. 

Alaska’s telecoms say they are ready as more people work from home and schools are considering e-learning possibilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Alaska Communications is built to handle increased demands in bandwidth, said Heather Cavanaugh, director of external affairs and corporate communications.

“Alaskans can rest assured we are well prepared to support teleworkers and distance education,” she said. “In fact, the latest two releases of the ‘Call of Duty’ video game have put more demand on our network than recent events, and our network continued to operate flawlessly.”

In a news release, Alaska Communications President and CEO Bill Bishop said that for the next 60 days the company will not terminate service for residential or small business customers who cannot pay their bills because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The company also will waive late fees, waive long-distance overage fees, and work with communities and agencies on remote learning and business continuity opportunities.

“We have business continuity plans in place to keep our networks up and running to support our communities as we all work together to manage the coronavirus spread,” Bishop said. 

In addition, Alaska Communications is doing the following:

• Working with Rural Health Care program participants to increase bandwidth, as needed, at no charge.   

• Offering free unlimited internet through the end of the school year to all K-12 and university students and teachers who do not have internet.

Heather Handyside, vice president of corporate communications for GCI, said the company has been monitoring its networks throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

“The network is showing no issues as of now,” she said. “It’s difficult to predict people’s behaviors, but we’re trying to predict various scenarios. We’ve been modeling different scenarios of different capacities throughout the day, and right now we see no issues.”

GCI is also offering free upgrades to current customers through May 31, as well as no charge for new customers for specific plans until May 31. 

AT&T has suspended broadband usage caps for home internet customers. It also announced it won’t terminate service for residential or small business customers who can’t pay their bills as a result of the coronavirus. It also will waive late charges.

A subsidiary of Fairbanks-based Doyon, Limited, has made its portfolio of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-3) spectrum licenses available at no cost to Verizon Wireless to strengthen Verizon’s capacity during the virus outbreak. 

Northstar Wireless’s licenses are used to provide cellphone and data service and cover approximately 120 million people nationwide, according to a Doyon news release. It will strengthen Verizon’s network as more of its customers are working from home, home-schooling or using telemedicine or are otherwise increasingly reliant on high-speed broadband. The arrangement is good for 60 days.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed his gratitude to the companies.

“Wireless services are a vital part of connectivity, and this has never been truer than during this crisis, when so many people are turning to telework, remote learning, and telehealth options,” Pai said in a written statement.

Northstar obtained the AWS-3 licenses in a 2015 FCC auction. Since then, Doyon has put together a business plan to implement the licenses but is awaiting FCC approval, according to Allen Todd, general counsel for the Alaska Native regional corporation. “There are glaciers that move faster than they do on these issues,” he said.

However, the fact that the business plans haven’t been finalized means Northstar Wireless has the spectrum available for Verizon to use, Todd said. Because more people are trying to access their home internet networks for work or home-schooling, Verizon is seeing some congestion. Northstar’s bandwidth could relieve some of those problems.

The band 66 spectrum is a licensed and approved technical band that is already hard-wired into most handsets, Todd said, so Verizon can immediately implement it.

“We take great pride in making our contribution to the national response to COVID-19,” said Sarah Obed, vice president of external affairs for Doyon. “As wireless networks are experiencing substantial additional demands, our spectrum will allow Verizon Wireless to unlock much needed additional network capacity and in turn improve speeds and service for their customers. We are proud to do our part to respond to this crisis – both in Alaska and the Lower 48.”

Todd added, “Everyone understands that these are pretty unusual times.”

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.