Future of ARCS Television in Dillingham uncertain

Apr 17, 2018

If no one steps up to maintain it, Dillingham may lose the equipment that broadcasts the Alaska Rural Communication Service, a public television service that broadcasts a selection of programing from PBS and various news and entertainment stations.

The Dillingham ARCS broadcast tower is off Wood River Road.
Credit Hannah Colton

ARCS TV in Dillingham is on the fritz. Alaska Rural Communication Service is a network of low-powered television stations that offers free programming across much of bush Alaska. It is maintained in partnership by the state, the television stations that contribute content and local communities.

For decades, equipment and electronics for Dillingham’s ARCS service have been installed at a television broadcast tower on Wood River Road that was built by the state. That is unusual for the service.

“Each site where ARCS exists out in rural Alaska is usually owned, operated and maintained by some entity within the local community,” explained Steve Hamlin, the technical manager for ARCS Television and Alaska Public Broadcasting Incorporated.

The other tenants renting space at the TV tower on Wood River Road are falling away, which means that the cost of continuing to operate ARCS from the tower would rest entirely on the state.

“It’s getting down to the point where the ARCS system may, in fact, end up being the last occupant of that space. There are no state budgetary dollars available for paying the operating costs of the systems in the villages. So when that happens, Dillingham will have to come up with some other solution for providing space and power to the local electronics set out there,” said Hamlin.

A local organization or group of people will likely need to take over the maintenance and operating costs for ARCS’ equipment to keep service broadcasting in Dillingham.

“This is being done in many other communities already and has been all along in many of them. Usually it’s some sort of public organization—a health clinic, a school or a local non-profit. Sometimes it’s just a loose aggregation of people in the community who shepherd this thing along and keep it going. It’s my estimation that several other opportunities exist in Dillingham to keep this service going in Dillingham, but it’s going to take some effort on some folks’ parts out there,” said Hamlin.

Hamlin said that ARCS Television’s current maintenance situation will likely be stable for several more months and that ARCS hopes the Dillingham community will reach out to take over equipment in the meantime.

If ARCS does continue in Dillingham, it is slated to receive an upgrade from an analog to a digital system. The new system would include three new channels in addition to the current variety channel—a full time PBS channel, Gavel Alaska and University of Alaska Television.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.