The Unbanked/ Underbanked of "rural" Alaska


I’ve been reflecting on my travels to Western Alaska on one side of my brain while keeping an eye on this forum with the other, and the two thoughts finally came together.

I know most US citizens in the “lower 48” aren’t aware of the situation there. or if @etnceo and @chris.gorman are aware of the opportunity in the region, but here goes.

Once you get off the road system, your Verizon AT&T Sprint whatever doesn’t work anymore. Mobile service is handled by a single provider, GCI. Other than a few larger ones, most villages have between 200-500 people in them. (And I’ve been to many of them.) No bank, no ATM. Credit Cards and E-Commerce are king. Although there is a strong barter and sense of community where people work together. At least one store in a village if they’re lucky, but these are more for the essentials to get by between trips to the larger villages, or the “Big Village,” Anchorage. Also, the beginning of the month usually sees long lines of people getting the essentials and what not with state funds, that are usualy kept track of with a pen and notepad. (No lie, I’ve seen it, not sure how it’s handled afterwards.)There’s no roads connecting the villages to the hubs, so either a plane or boat ride is required. (Yes, there are snow machine trails in the winter and people do drive on the frozen rivers which goes a long way to connect communities.)

The airfare is pretty high, but there’s generous carry on and checking allowance for big totes of supplies. If the weather is real bad for a week or more at a time (it happens) stores run out since everything is shipped in. Internet coverage can be pretty spotty and is typically satellite based. Most villages power come from diesel generators, although there is been a large investment in wind power for the tundra villages.

Now, the one thing every village has, is a GCI cell tower. (As a pilot, it’s good to know where each village’s is when the weather is crummy lol.) This carries both subscription and pay as you go/ top up customers. Every kid has a smart phone believe it or not, and most adults have one or at least a “feature” phone. It’s nothing to see a large group of kids hanging around a school or youth center using the free Wi-Fi.

It’s definitely not as large of a market segment as some of the other areas of the world that are being targeted by ETN, but an opportunity nonetheless. I hope nobody thinks I’m painting a bleak picture, it’s actually quite free and the communities are quite strong. The financial situation is severly lacking and in some ways a hinderance on the people there.

I have a huge heart for them, and it’s why I keep going back. I’d like to one day see the mission of ETN reach them as well.

(I did not take this pic, but I was around…:wink:)


I was in Fairbanks for a couple weeks with the military and can relate to where you are coming from (albeit in a much smaller facet). This is a great idea!


Thanks @gjfrom . I’ll get to fairbanks one of these days, usualy spend the night in the Ted Stevens airport and then it’s off to the “bush.” Did you get bit by the AK bug? (Don’t mean the skeeters lol)


An example of the largest mobile carrier in the U.S.'s coverage of Alaska.
Anchorage, Kenai peninsula, Fairbanks, sporadic SE, and Deadhorse (oil ops). Rest is GCI.

And then compare to GCI:

The majority of villages have GCI coverage. Some villages have neither. The bare spots in this coverage map are mostly wilderness.