Federal program helps Alaska villages get broadband access

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska will receive at least $100 million through a new federal program to expand high-speed internet to underserved rural areas and promote workforce development, officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, coordinated a summit with state, federal and tribal officials in Anchorage, in an effort to ensure parties were on the same page moving forward. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a bill at the summit establishing a broadband office to help coordinate between all entities.

Sullivan said it is important to seize “this incredible opportunity that we have before us, which is to connect every part of Alaska, every village, every community to broadband and other internet activity.”

The federal infrastructure package included $65 billion to help ensure all Americans have affordable, reliable and high-speed internet through the Internet for All program. Sullivan said that through this program and others, Alaska could ultimate receive more than $2 billion.

Alan Davidson, the assistance secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, saw and heard about the needs while taking part in a round-table discussion in Fairbanks on Monday and then visiting the village of Tanana.

“The need for affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is great, and the challenge of reaching the unconnected here is immense,” Davidson said during a news conference before flying to Bethel to survey needs there.

While in Fairbanks, he announced a $50 million grant to the Doyon Regional Corp. as part of the tribal broadband connectivity program. He said the funding will help connect hundreds of households in 23 Alaska Native communities to state-of-the-art Internet service.

Hundreds of tribes applied for grants last year, five times the amount of funding the agency could accommodate, but Davidson announced an infusion of $1 billion dollars into that fund during his Anchorage visit. He said they can now approve more of the applications they received last year without having to make the tribes reapply.

He also said they have reached an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to streamline the permitting process for building high speed internet networks on tribal lands.

Asked when Alaska Native villages might be connected to high-speed internet, Sullivan said he describes it as a five-year plan, though some areas will have connectivity before others.

“We need to plan it, coordinate it and shoot for that long five-year goal of trying to connect everybody in the state,” Sullivan said.