The University of Alaska system goes back to school today. Students have moved off campus for the most part and are expected to resume their classes online today (Monday). That could be a stumbling block for those in Alaska communities with poor or no internet service. But the University is getting help from some of Alaska’s largest internet providers.
On Friday, students and staff were emailed an update on what’s being called the “virtual spring semester.” While some classes have been remotely-delivered for years, this big shift from face-to-face classrooms requires all students to have a computer and internet access. Some Alaska towns and villages don’t have high-speed internet, and some students who had budgeted using on-campus networks suddenly have to pay for their own.
Heather Cavanaugh of Alaska Communications, known commonly as ACS, says they will give free internet service to university employees and students who don’t have it, through the end of the school year.
“We know that being connected is more important than ever. We want to make it very easy for them to not worry about the financial impact, because we know that there are so many other financial impacts happening in people’s lives.”
Much of the Alaska Range and Mat-Su communities get internet from the Alaska-owned cooperative, MTA. Jessica Gilbert of MTA says they are partnering with all K-12 schools as well as the university to upgrade speeds and data for their customers through the end of the school year.
“Regardless of their financial situation, that they are on the most capable speeds and unlimited data that can be provided at their home and keep their bill exactly the same as it was before. We gotta take of our learners and our educators.”
Gilbert says over the weekend they have had many students apply for the extra service.
“For those who are on more of a fixed income, and they’ve never had the opportunity to experience unlimited (data service) but now all of their students are in the home, all at the same time. We’re hoping we can ease some of that burden.)
GCI is offering university students free upgrades to the next level if they are current customers and a free month to try GCI if they are not. They are also suspending all disconnects due to lack of payments.
The university system doesn’t know how well online classes will work for all students and is still working on improving connectivity as the semester resumes.