Rural Alaska broadband coverage target of nearly $100M of federal funding

Federal Government announces millions more to advance broadband coverage in rural Alaska
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 4:03 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Officials from the Biden administration are visiting Alaska to announce a new round of federal funding that will benefit the state, including nearly $100 million to connect numerous rural communities to reliable, high-speed internet.

Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, along with Senior Advisor to the President and White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and other federal officials shared the news at a press conference Tuesday at Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Peltola called the funding crucial for different regions of the state: “These three projects are designed to meet the needs of people who live in remote areas and want to stay in these remote areas and build a life for their families,” she said.

The funding is being delivered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to three Alaskan projects, all of which engaged in a competitive bidding process with similar applicants across the country, according to Julia Hnilicka, Alaska Director for USDA Rural Development.

Hnilicka said companies awarded the grants will have a year to do a required environmental assessment and an additional five years to complete the projects. The expectation, she said, is that some may finish before the deadline. Projects include:

  • $29.9 million for Bush-Tell Inc. for fiber connections to 697 people, 38 businesses and seven educational facilities in the Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta census areas, including Aniak, Upper Kalskag, Lower Kalskag, Crooked Creek, Red Devil, Sleetmute, Stony River, Holy Cross, Anvik, Shageluk and Grayling.
  • $35 million for Unicom Inc. for fiber connections to 1,472 people, 22 businesses and two educational facilities in the Bethel and Kusilvak census areas, including Emmonak, Toksook Bay and Tununak Alaska Native Village areas.
  • $34.9 million for Cordova Telephone Cooperative Inc. for fiber and wireless internet for 28 people, eight businesses and one educational facility in the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area.

Sarah Kathrein, who is heading the project for the Cordova Telephone Cooperative, said the grant amount of nearly $35 million may seem excessive considering the number of people it appears to be benefitting but, in fact, she says the number of individuals who will benefit is much greater than 28.

Kathrein said the grant money is paying to lay a 560-mile submarine fiber cable that will connect Cordova to Juneau. The cable has branches to smaller communities, including Pelican, where the funding will pay to connect cable to residences there.

“But we are also branching to Yakutat, Hoonah and Gustavus along the way,” she said. “And the reason for that is that so these communities can also get vital redundancy that they don’t currently have. So when you hear that 28 number and all of a sudden you add these communities as well as Cordova, you are looking at over 4,000 people. And we are landing in Juneau, I think that puts it [at] approximately 36,000 people [who] will have the opportunity to benefit from this cable.”

Kathrein said the Cooperative has received several other grants from the federal government to provide internet services to small communities in Southeast Alaska and is making progress on bringing more reliable internet to the region.