Nearly $2B in broadband funding earmarked to connect Alaskans to faster internet
Officials aim to connect every Alaskan community under new program
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state of Alaska and some of its communities have been awarded nearly $2 billion in federal funding to ensure that every resident has access to the internet.
But where does all that money come from — and who’s keeping track of it all?
“It is clearly unprecedented in size and scope,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “Some parts of America are just more difficult to access so the initial investment is a big one.”
Murkowski says the federal aid is designed to get Alaska fully connected to the internet. This includes a wide array of major funding sources such as President Joe Biden’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — also known as BEAD — which is the biggest source of funding, providing over $1 billion to the state.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program pledged $387 million. A long list of other programs provided hundreds of millions more in funding, from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Program to the Digital Equity Act, all totaling nearly $2 billion in broadband infrastructure money and every penny of that is earmarked for Alaska.
“It’s pretty extraordinary, it’s pretty incredible, it’s very impressive — $2 billion dollars,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also says despite the big costs involved, Alaskans and every American deserve fast broadband, just as everyone deserves first class mail service.
“Internet now is vital to commerce in this country,” Murkowski said. “It’s vital to commerce in this world.”
But how will Alaskans know that money will be used appropriately?
“We don’t just want to have the money shoved out the door of the airplane and hope it lands in a place that’s going to provide some value,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski says state and federal officials will work with tribal and local communities to ensure that money connects at least 88,000 Alaskans.
“It’s very expensive to build out fiber in rural Alaska,” GCI spokesperson Heather Handyside said. “It can cost $70,000 to $100,000 per mile.”
Handyside says federal and state officials mapped out every community in Alaska so no resident would be left off the grid.
But that’s not to say everyone will be connected.
“Right now, I don’t think that even with the maximum amount of funding that has been given to the state and that’s even available through these programs, I can’t say that there’s enough to actually build out all the projects that need to be built out, to all the communities that need service,” Handyside said.
Handyside says that GCI is one of about a dozen telecommunications providers that will string a web of fiber and other broadband technologies throughout Alaska. Throughout it all, federal officials will try to keep tabs on everything.
“We have federal agency representatives who go out and visit the sites with us, we take them with us,” Handyside said.
Handyside also says that without the aid, costs are often too high for private companies to fully serve remote communities.
“It’s a very risky investment from a business perspective and these federal grants help make the financial model make sense,” Handyside said.
It also makes sense, she said, to integrate the often-isolated communities into the broader Alaska and global economies.
“I think we recognize that in Alaska we’re all connected in a little bit of a different way but there’s far too many communities that still remain unserved or underserved and that’s what we’re trying to do to address that,” Handyside said.
Because much of the money has only recently been allocated, it’s not yet fully known how and where it will all be spent. State officials say oversight of the funds will be under the direction of the Alaska Broadband Office.
Allocation of BEAD funds could take at least a year to process. The application process for BEAD grants is expected to open in January 2024, and according to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, no separate state funds are part of this round of broadband spending.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional information.
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