When a fire ripped through Tununak’s laundromat in February, it left people without an easy place to wash clothes. The fire also damaged the community’s internet infrastructure, causing outages for half of the village.
Without internet, residents say it’s been hard to carry out everyday tasks like uploading documents or ordering necessities online. And it’s making it harder for people to do their jobs.
“I don’t have internet access or email access,” said Alvina Whitman, who started a new job in March as an Indian Child Welfare worker. “I feel like I’m missing out on a lot.”
Whitman said that she has missed important meetings and trainings for her new job. And it’s impacted the children she is working to protect.
She’s missed out on Office of Children’s Services hearings, where decisions are made about whether a child should be removed from the care of their guardians. She said that because of the outages, she can only find out about the hearings through the mail.
Whitman has not only lost internet in her office, she’s lost it in her home, too. She can access the internet through her phone’s data plan, but she said that service is spotty and slow. She said that makes it more difficult for her to order necessities online.
“Sometimes I forget to order or end up not ordering because the internet’s so slow,” said Whitman.
Once, she wasn’t able to order diapers for her baby. She ran out and ended up having to buy a pack from Bethel, which was around $60 more expensive than online.
According to GCI, The internet outage has impacted five businesses and 12 homes in Tununak. But Tununak’s tribal administrator, Xavier Post, said that it has actually affected around 45 homes. That’s more than half of the community.
The internet is also out in the tribal administrator’s office. It’s making his job a lot harder. He spends a lot of time using the internet to file financial reports and apply for grants, but he said that the Tribe has possibly missed grant deadlines.
“We’re delaying our reports. It’s very frustrating. The internet we have right now, is takes up most of our day,” said Post.
Each task takes him double or triple the usual amount of time. He gets around not having internet at work by texting photos of the Tribe’s financial documents to a consultant in Fairbanks, or by lugging his work computers home and using his personal internet.
GCI spokesperson Heather Handyside said that she gets where Post is coming from.
“I definitely can understand why folks are frustrated. I know that connectivity is, you know, a need. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have,” she said.
She says that the company is working to restore the internet, and workers could be in Tununak by the end of the week. But Post said that GCI has been telling them they’ll get there by the end of the week since February.
Handyside said that the company had been waiting for a cable to arrive for months. Now they’re waiting on specialized technicians to install it. She said that both slowdowns are caused by general supply chain issues and an increased demand for broadband.
“Unfortunately, a big piece of this which is, you know, key equipment that we needed — it was just out of our hands,” Handyside said.
Handyside said that the residents without internet have not been charged during this time period. She said that if there are residents without internet who have been charged, they should get in touch with GCI.
In addition to waiting on the internet, Tununak is also still waiting on a temporary washeteria from the State of Alaska. Internet outages have made communications with the state slow. Tribal Administrator Xavier Post said that’s delayed the process of getting the washeteria, but he still hopes they’ll have it at some point this summer.