Alaska telecom companies say they’re staying on top of internet demand

Alaska's internet is the second slowest in the country. (Photo by Sarah Yu/KTOO)
(Photo by Sarah Yu/KTOO)

Alaska telecommunications companies say they’re staying on top of the surge in internet traffic resulting from canceled work and school.

“Since February, we’ve been looking at the pandemic and considering what kind of scenarios could occur, and based on our estimates, we’ve been doing some modeling to see some different levels of traffic that our network can handle,” said Heather Handyside, vice president of corporate communications for GCI. “Right now, the network looks good.”

Handyside said that GCI’s modeling showed a surge of internet traffic around when Anchorage schools took spring break, when the virus was expected to hit. It did just that, but Handyside said that so far, the spike isn’t as severe as some feared.

“We haven’t seen anything exceed the activity during spring break, and I think we can attribute that to, you know, we do have a lot of folks working from home, but I think perhaps there are less people working at their businesses, and so it appears that things may be kind of evening out based on people’s change in location,” she said.

Alaska Communications said its network is also holding up well.

“The latest two releases of the ‘Call of Duty’ video game have put more demand on our network than recent events, and our network continues to operate flawlessly,” wrote Heather Cavanaugh, Alaska Communications’ external affairs director in an email to Alaska Public Media.

Still, Handyside of GCI acknowledged that the spike in users could cause internet speeds to slow marginally.

In the meantime, telecommunications companies Alaska Communications and GCI have both agreed not to cut customers’ service for non-payment as part of a larger national Keep Americans Connected pledge, which was started by the Federal Communications Commission. As part of that pledge, the companies are also waiving late fees and opening up hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots to the public for free.

GCI also said it is going beyond that and providing free internet service and hardware to K-12 students and teachers whose classes have been moved online due to school cancellations. The company is doing the same for households that currently don’t have internet service, provided there is availability.

ACS made the same pledge to students and teachers, including to university students, and has also promised to waive long-distance overage fees related to the virus.

And companies are working to ensure customers don’t have to worry about spreading infections in order to get service. In addition to shutting down their retail stores, GCI is offering policies such as self-installation of hardware to make sure that the virus isn’t spread through service technicians.

 

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