Last week, Kodiak watched — or rather, didn't — as GCI removed Anchorage NBC affiliate KTUU-TV from its service in Kodiak and other parts of rural Alaska.
The reason is a contract dispute, and like a bone between two dogs, Kodiak is caught in the middle.
Kodiakans have taken to Facebook to grouse and complain, with some vowing to switch to Dish Network or DirecTV, which have continued to carry KTUU.
Still others have vowed to cut their cable TV completely and switch their Internet service to ACS, the other big player in Alaska.
Unfortunately, both solutions ignore the real problem: GCI is the only all-in-one source for Internet, telephone and cable TV service in Alaska. If GCI has a problem, so does most of Alaska.
ACS doesn't offer TV service, and satellite Internet (where possible) is crippled by physics. What goes up must come down, and when a signal has to be bounced off a distant satellite, even the speed of light is too slow.
Alaskans don't shy away from problems. If a solution doesn't present itself, we build it.
A decade ago, the residents of Chattanooga, Tenn. found themselves in a situation similar to the one Kodiak finds itself. Instead of complaining, they got to work.
Their local electric company, EPB, had just begun building a network of fiber-optic cables in order to increase the efficiency of its power grid. In 2007, Chattanooga voted to implement a plan called Fiber to the Home. Since then, more than 170,000 homes have been connected to EPB's network of fiber-optic cables.
With those cables, they can receive telephone, TV, and the fastest residential Internet service in the country: 1 gigabit per second.
Compare that to GCI's fastest residential plan, which is almost 50 times slower — and more expensive than comparable EPB plans.
EPB is a publicly owned company, and it doesn't search for profit, meaning its prices are lower than anything else in the area.
This idea makes sense for Kodiak, too.
Kodiak Electric Association is owned by you, its members, and its actions should be to achieving the greatest good for those members. It's hard to argue that faster Internet and cheaper, more reliable TV service doesn't do that.
KEA has been overwhelmingly successful in its quest for renewable energy, and next year Kodiak should generate more than 99 percent of its power from renewable sources. KEA isn't standing still, however. Kodiak will need more electricity in the future, and KEA is looking for ways to generate that power.
Instead of building a new power plant or expanding Terror Lake further, we suggest that a smart grid using fiber-optic cables could do the same thing. KEA could increase the efficiency of its grid and provide an additional valued service to its customers.
KEA should investigate the idea of a Kodiak fiber network by starting a feasibility study immediately. The benefits are too great to pass up.
GCI is discussing fiber plans of its own, but it hasn’t announced any plans to bring fiber to homes. If it ever does, it will act in Anchorage first. Kodiak and the rest of Alaska will have to wait.
If we want to avoid being left behind and take control of our infrastructure, we need to step forward.