High-Speed Internet in the works for rural communities in Alaska

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:46 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2022 at 8:55 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - For communities along the Yukon River north of Fairbanks, high-speed Internet will be available within the near future.

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced $51 million will be allotted to Doyon, Limited in partnership with Alaska Communications to develop fiber-optic internet services.

The NTIA is part of the Biden Administration’s Department of Commerce and is charged with implementing and distributing grant funding that furthers the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies.

During a meeting early August 8, 2022 in Fairbanks, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the NTIA, Alan Davidson, visited with Doyon, Limited’s Chief Executive Officer Aaron Schutt, alongside Vice-President of Tanana Chiefs Conference Sharon Hildebrand, and President and CEO of Alaska Communications Bill Bishop.

The Federal grant money was awarded to Doyon, Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, and will be used to give rural communities in Alaska, something that was never available to them before, high-speed Internet.

“We have been talking about the digital divide in this country for over 20 years,” Davidson said. “We have finally been given the resources through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other funding sources to actually do something serious and structural about it.”

For the Interior, Fort Yukon, Beaver, Stevens Village, Rampart, and Tanana will all be facilitated along the network connection. A fiber-to-the-home network will offer a high-speed service, connecting to Alaska Communications core fiber network out of Fairbanks.

“This is a once-in-a-generation moment,” Davidson added. “We don’t spend these kinds of billions of dollars to connect everybody all that often, this is our shot.”

Davidson went on to say, “Just as generations before us connected people with electricity, and water, built the highway system, this is our generation’s moment. This is the infrastructure that our generation needs to build to connect everybody with what they need to thrive in the modern economy and that is a high-speed, reliable, affordable internet connection.”

This project is part of the Alaska Fiber Optic Project. The goal is to reach 20 rural villages not only in the Yukon, but communities along the Kuskokwim River. Eight tribal governments of the Ahtna region will also receive services.

“It is kind of late in the season to build now,” said Doyon CEO Aaron Schutt, “but I think that we will be looking at two summer seasons past this for full employment. With our partnership with ACS, we will have the fiber to every home and community building at urban pricing, and I think that is a goal we can all apply. "

This is big news for rural communities who, for the first time, will be able to connect online using a fiber-optic cable expanding broadband to the communities.

Residents will be able to access online classes, telehealth, and work online jobs, among a variety of other internet uses. TCC’s Vice President Sharon Hildebrand said for many, this will help to also bring jobs to the villages, in-person and online. “We have been talking about if we are able to get a broadband fiber-optic line put in, this will provide those outreach positions and they are able to work from their community,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of outmigration from our rural communities, and this will ensure that they will be able to work there in the villages, and provide employment. It is it just a great opportunity for the villages and again it will provide great training opportunities and educational opportunities and so much more.”

Hildebrand said currently the technology is just not there. Many residents have to wait outside a clinic or a school just to check their e-mails. On top of that, the weather is a big deterrent to their already spotty reception.

“It’s 2022, it is time for us to address this divide that we have had you know the Internet is the key to connect work, economic opportunity, connect with education, connect with other people, to thrive in a modern economy,” Davidson said adding, “We are committed to making those changes in people’s lives and this will be the first step in what is going to be a much larger set of programs eventually.”

The NTIA received more than 300 applications before September 1, 2021 and the NTIA will continue to announce those tribal awards as they move through their review process.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 created the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program, which made $980 million available for grants for eligible native entities around the country.

A press release from Doyon, Limited said Alaska Communications will begin the permit and construction process as quickly as possible. They plan to offer a $75 per month discount for households on qualifying Tribal lands through the Affordable Connectivity Program.

More information is available at the USAC Affordable Connectivity Program website.

The State of Alaska recently signed into the Biden-Harris Administration’s “Internet for All” initiative and will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for efficient and effective implementation of high-speed internet expansion, according to the release.

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