Cyber-city status loosens geography's grip

Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Juneau is entangled in the Web.

Observers say Alaska's isolated capital city has some of the highest Internet capacity and use, per capita, of any community in the country.

``We probably are the most wired community, maybe in the world,'' said Chris Burns, Webmaster and morning host at KINY/KSUP radio.

And another high-speed option for Web surfing reportedly is on the way in the next few weeks.

A new era for Juneau began a year ago.

On Feb. 3, 1999, Anchorage-based General Communications Inc. activated its new $125 million, 2,331-mile fiber optic cable linking Alaska's major population centers with the Lower 48. GCI, which provides cable television service in Juneau, offered cable modems with vastly quicker connections to the Internet.

Observers are unaware of another community of 30,000 with similar Internet capacity.

``There used to be two ways out of Juneau, via boat or via plane,'' said Dean Bardenheuer, Southeast regional manager for GCI. ``I think there's now a third way.''

The coaxial cable used for television is far wider than copper telephone wires, allowing information transfers to proceed more quickly. Also, the fiber optic cable used to communicate with the rest of the world, transmitting data through pulses of light, is far more efficient than the microwave and satellite connections Juneau had to rely on until a year ago.

At 256,000 bits per second, the minimum download rate with a cable modem is five times better than the fastest dial-up connection, Bardenheuer said. Also, eight computers can be hooked up to one modem, and there aren't the interruption problems phone lines can have, he said.

By many accounts, the community is responding enthusiastically to its new cyber-city status.

In Juneau, there is twice the cable modem market penetration than Anchorage, and 11 times the national market penetration, according to GCI spokesman David Morris.

Capacity gets more complicated to compare, although Juneau appears to have 25 times the infrastructure per capita as the nation as a whole, Morris said. Juneau is uniquely endowed for a community of its size because of the size of the ``pipe'' serving the community.

The design capacity is 10 billion bits per second, enough to transmit 187 copies of ``War and Peace'' in one second, Morris said.

Burns, who designs a variety of Web sites for local businesses and organizations, said the increased speed with the cable modem has changed his family life.

``I used to spend a hell of a lot more time a day at my computer, and it was just waiting for bytes to transfer,'' he said. One regular task has been cut from 15 to 20 minutes to just two minutes, he said.

As a result, Burns spends more time with his family, and his 4-year-old son is able to explore ``kid safe'' Internet sites without becoming impatient. ``Young people just can't wait. Business people can't afford to wait.''

Susan Favro, owner of Meeting Results, has opened an office for her event-coordination firm in Missoula, Mont., where she will be moving. Favro, coordinator of next week's COMTECH 2000 technology trade show in Juneau, said she doesn't expect any difficulty in maintaining the Alaska side of her business because of Juneau's high-tech links to Outside.

``I think it's mattering less and less where you do your business,'' she said.

Neil Rones, co-owner of new FM radio stations KFMG and KSRJ, said the cable modem connection allows him to make more polished advertisements for clients because he can take advantage of engineering technology in distant locations.

``I'm convinced you get fewer transmission errors'' in sending audio files, Rones said.

Despite the quantum leap in Juneau's Internet capacity in the last year, the innovations haven't stopped.

Alaska Communications Systems, parent company of local telephone service provider PTI Communications, will roll out a digital subscriber line modem within 45 days, according to Jeff Tyson, vice president of the parent company's Internet services division.

DSL is a high-speed Internet alternative using the existing copper cable for telephones. Because voices constitute ``a small slice'' of the available space, DSL can create a second communications pathway at higher frequencies, Tyson said. ``The rest of the band width traditionally has been wasted.''

Tyson contends that the DSL product will be cheaper, faster and more secure from hackers than cable modems. However, the price of the DSL product isn't being announced yet. ``We're trying to keep some of this a surprise. . . . It'll be very competitive, let's put it that way.''

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