Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Off-grid residents lose Internet option

 


Residents living off the grid are investigating new sources of Internet service with the pending closure of StarBand, an over-satellite provider that was available here for about a decade.

“We regret to inform you that due to steadily increasing operating costs, bandwidth demand and competing consumer broadband alternatives, we will be discontinuing StarBand services effective September 30, 2015,” the company said on its website this week.

Resident Robin Grace, who also lives across Mud Bay, said when her family sought to reconnect to Starband recently after spending winter Outside, they were told the company was not reactivating accounts in Alaska and it was pulling out of Southeast.

“The weird thing is they didn’t tell anybody. They’re still not telling anybody,” Grace said.

Grace said Starband’s service allowed her families and others to get Internet service for the first time, although service by the Georgia-based firm could be spotty and was virtually non-existent on cruise ship days.

“We called them up when we were having problems with our service and they’d say they were having storms in Georgia,” Grace said.

Grace’s family has since switched to an AT&T “home base” service, but that required more than $1,000 in new equipment, including boosters and antennae, Grace said. Even with that service – which includes cell phone service and provides service through cell phone towers – Internet service is intermittent and cell phone service rarely works on cruise ship days, she said.

It appears another over-satellite provider, HughesNet, also is stepping in. Joe Ashcraft, a Ketchikan-based HughesNet dealer, retailer and installer, this week said he’ll be in Haines in late September and can retool the Starband equipment for use with HughesNet.

Ashcraft said he would charge $200 (if the existing dish can be used), with a monthly service plan of $70 to $90, depending on the level of service. Another option is $500 for installation, including a modem and transmitter, with no lease or activation fee. Ashcraft estimates there are about 2,000 Starband users in Alaska.

Combined with a federal Open Skies initiative starting in 2011, rural residents here and throughout Alaska were once able to connect to the Internet for free, with a monthly service fee of $50. “It was amazing,” said resident Burl Sheldon, who lives across Mud Bay. But as grid-based utilities extended to outlying areas, the number of customers dwindled to what is believed to be about 15 customers.

 
 

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