YKHC Media Release - DeltaNet

YKHC Media Release - DeltaNet

Valerie Davidson, YKHC Exec VP

Val Davidson, YKHC's Executive Vice President, Speaks in support of DeltaNet. Steve Hamlen, President of United Utilities, Inc., listens in the foreground.

Global warming, higher costs disrupt DeltaNet development
[YKHC - 11-08-04]

During the Alaska Federation of Natives convention week, organizations desiring the continuation of a broadband Internet project in the Y-K Delta, which began construction this summer, gathered at the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) offices in Anchorage and requested support for supplemental funding for the project.

The presentation was before Ms. Kate Giard, program administrator for the Rural Alaska Broadband Internet Access Grant Program.

Last year, United Utilities, Inc. (UUI), a Bethel-based telecom, was awarded a $2.5 million broadband Internet access grant to begin infrastructure development for a terrestrial wireless communications network in 11 Y-K Delta communities. The 11- community effort is the first phase of the build-out of a region wide terrestrial wireless network referred to as “DeltaNet”.

But a report by UUI, which was presented during the testimony, stated that problems began arising during construction which were unforeseen when the grant was first submitted. These included the discovery that permafrost was warmer due to global warming, by as much as four degrees since the early 1970s, especially in the Kuskokwim River sites. Other factors included the escalation of world steel prices, a fuel surcharge increase due to higher energy costs, and regulatory reasons.

Like ice, permafrost loses rigidity as it warms. To remedy such problems, state-of-the-art technology for placing structures on “warm” permafrost (30.5 – 32 degrees), is being deployed to ensure the structural integrity of the DeltaNet towers, said Steve Hamlen, President of UUI. “This is the same technology that has been used during the construction of the transAlaska pipeline,” he said.

The new tower design, increases in steel prices, and increases in transportation costs have more than doubled costs. UUI has requested $4.7 million in supplemental funding while contributing $5 million of its own funds to the project.

Hamlen said that Phase I construction will link 11 communities to Bethel and offer Broadband Internet and other services to Upper and Lower Kalskag, Tuntutuliak, Eek, Kwigillingok, Kipnuk, Kongiganak, Chefornak, Nightmute, Tununak and Newtok. UUI is also planning on adding Quinhagak, Mekoryuk, Toksook Bay, and Aniak to the Phase I build-out.

DeltaNet will also support telemedicine, distance learning, emergency services, KYUK radio broadcasts, and other telecommunication services. “The quality of terrestrial networking provides significant improvements in performance and reliability over satellite services, which suffers from latency (delay) and sun-outage problems,” said Hamlen.

UUI is planning on completing Phase I of the DeltaNet project by December, 2006. “Our relationship with RCA is positive up to this point,” he said. “We are hopeful that the RCA will recognize the value of the entire DeltaNet project and approve UUI’s supplemental funding request.”

Hamlen added that UUI is especially thankful to the stakeholders that traveled to Anchorage to give “awesome” presentations to the RCA in support of DeltaNet and UUI’s funding request.
Val Davidson, YKHC’s Executive Vice President, was one representative of Y-K Delta agencies testifying before the RCA, who spoke on YKHC’s need for improved communication capabilities.

“We support this project because we need better communications services to improve and maintain quality health services in the Y-K Delta,” she said.

“We also have distance-delivery training needs and this project would also support economic development in the Y-K Delta,” added Davidson. “We have many young people in our region, so it would create I.T. (Internet Technology) jobs for them as well as enable our people to sell arts and crafts on the Internet.”

Greg Moore, a professional engineer representing the Statewide Telecommunications User Group, said all nine Native health organizations in Alaska are experiencing some problems in communications. “This project would help telecommunications get off satellite,” he said. “DeltaNet will reach very remote areas of Alaska. Schools, clinics, colleges, agencies and governments will achieve services similar to those in the lower ’48.”

Carlton Kuhns, Director of Yuut Elitnarviat, said that one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 30.2 percent as of June 2004, is found in the Y-K Delta. “We also have a 37 percent poverty rate, but the irony is that we have 350 job openings at the Bethel (state) job office but the skill level of applicants for those jobs is not adequate,” he said.

Kuhns explained what the YE partners are doing to address the issues of joblessness and the lack of skills by building the YE Center. “We still won’t be able to bring in every person to Bethel because it’s just isn’t possible due to housing and travel costs. We’ll need 2-way (video) teleconferencing to fill in that gap.”

Myron Naneng, President of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said DeltaNet is needed for tribal government work. “Municipalities do not always have resources to deal with community issues and usually rely on tribal governments for support,” he said.

UUI is planning on completing the build-out of DeltaNet over the next five years. Once completed, every community through out the YK delta will have direct wireless connectivity to each other and Bethel within a communications pipeline that will support every imaginable voice, video, and data communication for years to come. Terrestrial wireless sites that already exist near Bethel include Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmautluak, Napakiak, Napaskiak, Oscarville, Akiachak, Kwethluk, Akiak and Tuluksak.

Other wireless systems include Mt. Village, St. Mary’s, and Pitka’s Point. When DeltaNet is complete, these sites will convert to the terrestrial system.

After listening to the testimony, Giard said although the project is exactly what the grant program would be funding, she found that the supplement request was unusual. "Therefore, RCA would have to follow a public comment process so that any additional award, whatever the amount, toward the project is made fair for everyone concerned," she said.

Giard believed that the public process should take no more than 30 days before a determination is made on the request. She also added that $10 million is still available in the grant program.