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7/20/2006
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Alaskan VARs Stand Behind Sen. Ted Stevens' Internet Flubs

Solutions providers are concerned that the senator's verbal slips about the Internet--which he called a "series of tubes"--may give the wrong impression about Alaska's tech savvy.

If it's hard for many VARs to imagine traveling by seaplane or snowmobile to visit a customer, it's just as hard for Alaskan solution providers to understand all the fuss about Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) recent comments, in which he called the Internet a "series of tubes."

Stevens, a Senate member for 37 years and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, is being criticized for comments explaining his stance against Net neutrality, the concept of keeping all Web traffic equal.

His statements last month during consideration of the Communications, Consumers' Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 included the following: "[The Internet] is just a series of tubes" and "Now we have a separate Department of Defense Internet now, did you know that?" He also confused the term "Internet" with "e-mail."

For the last two weeks, Stevens has been the butt of jokes in the Lower 48 in places ranging from Youtube.com to "The Daily Show," much to the consternation of some of his solution provider constituents that build and support the "tubes" in Stevens' home state.

"It's much ado about nothing. The senator has lot of things on his mind. He was probably working hard and blurted out whatever was going through his mind. He's always been a well-informed guy, and he's done a lot to promote technology in Alaska," said Scott Thorson, CEO at Network Business Systems, an Anchorage, Alaska-based solution provider.

Thorson has met Stevens on several occasions--"It's a small state," he said--and he finds the attention on the senator undeserved. "It's not like he's a bonehead," Thorson said.

Some Alaskan solution providers said the notoriety gives Alaska a bad rap. If anything, Alaska could be even more technologically savvy than other parts of the country because of its remote location, they said.

"We have to be able to provide full telecommunications services to communities that are 500 miles from the nearest road and have less than 100 people. We do that routinely," Thorson said. "It's incredibly challenging when everything is built on permafrost. And we get blizzards that last weeks at a time, and you have visibility of less than 100 feet."

Marshel Reed, owner of Alaska Data Technologies, an Anchorage-based solution provider that serves small and midsize businesses, thinks Stevens' comments are being overanalyzed.

" 'Tubes' are just another word for 'pipes,' and people use the term 'pipes' all the time [when] talking about the Internet. It's just a big yada-yada about nothing," said Reed, a Stevens supporter. "He's an older gentlemen, very experienced in the ways of Congress, power brokering and getting things for Alaska. People here don't care what Sen. Stevens says. They care about what he does."

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