Technology will help ease rural-urban split

-- Alaska Newspapers Inc., Dec. 13

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

The Federal Communication Commission's recent decision to increase Internet access in rural Alaska is the first concrete step toward ending the rural-urban divide.

Earlier this month the commission agreed to let rural Alaska residents tie into the high-speed Internet program used by their local schools and libraries.

Currently, thousands of people in some 240 villages must pay exorbitant long-distance costs to hook into the Internet. In addition to the expense, interruptions and slow service have prevented many Bush residents from entering the Digital Age.

But thanks to an FCC waiver, those residents will now be able to surf the Internet from their homes during non-school hours. The waiver took into account Alaska's rugged landscape, its limited telecommunications infrastructure and its immense distances. Most importantly, it listened to Alaskans, dozens of whom signed a petition requesting the waiver.

''It's a great example of people working together to solve a problem,'' said Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who led the petition drive and chairs the state's Telecommunication Information Council.

The benefits will be as unlimited as the Internet itself. Young adults will be able to enroll in Web-based schools, and artists will be able to sell their wares on Internet co-ops.

Students in rural Alaska, who have some of the lowest test scores in the country, will be able to continue their electronic research once the school door closes. And their parents will be able to view curriculum links and other resources provided by their school district.

Used by an estimated 500 million people, the Internet has been called democracy's greatest tool. Now concerned citizens in rural Alaska will be able to review and comment on bills and other government proceedings. They will be able to access online newspapers and other databases. And they will more easily share their causes and concerns with the rest of the state.

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