KOTZEBUE - The telephone utility for northwest Alaska wants the federal government to subsidize Internet use in the region, saying online access has become a necessity of modern life.
OTZ Telephone Cooperative's cause has been embraced by the Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly, which recently passed a resolution urging the federal government to subsidize the expense of satellite connections required to bring the Internet to rural Alaska homes.
``We realize how important it is to have Internet access in the villages, and it needs to be affordable,'' said Doug Neal, general manager of the Kotzebue-based cooperative.
In Kotzebue, the cost of Internet access is spread over several hundred users, resulting in a monthly rate of about $45 charged by OTZ.
But villages in the region have fewer potential Internet subscribers, which means each now would have to pay about $200 a month, Neal said.
The assembly resolution also supports the efforts of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, which is trying to find solutions to the high cost of Internet service in rural Alaska.
Nanette Thompson, chairwoman of the Alaska commission, was appointed by the Federal Communications Commission to serve on a national joint conference to study the problem of providing service in rural areas.
``This is a problem the joint conference is trying to solve for all the underserved areas in the country,'' said Thompson.
One possible money source is the Federal Universal Services Program, a $3 billion program that already subsidizes rural phone rates and Internet connections for rural schools and health clinics.
``Right now, we're prohibited by federal law from putting retail services on the satellite circuits funded by the universal fund, but we're pushing to change that,'' Neal said.