Federal Cash Pays for North Slope, Kodiak Island Broadband Expansions
Nestled in the Brooks Range, Anaktuvuk Pass is one of the villages benefiting from a federal grant to Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative.
More than $60 million from two federal departments pays for extending high-speed internet from Kodiak Island to the Chukchi Sea. The Native Village of Port Lions, in partnership with GCI, receives a $29.3 million grant from the US Department of Commerce through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). And Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative (ASTAC) has been awarded $31 million from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) ReConnect Grant Program.
Broadband on the Slope
The grant to ASTAC provides the means to expand its terrestrial network in Point Lay and Anaktuvuk Pass by way of Point Hope and the Dalton Highway. Both projects allow for high-speed broadband at or above 100 Mbps in communities currently served by satellite bandwidth, which is prohibitively expensive and has limited capacity and very high latency.
“We are thrilled the USDA has awarded ASTAC the funding to make a broadband transformation in the final two ASTAC service communities,” says ASTAC General Manager and CEO Jens Laipenieks. “Upon completion, Point Lay and Anaktuvuk Pass will follow Utqiaġvik, Point Hope, Wainwright, Nuiqsut, Deadhorse, and Atqasuk as fully fiber-connected communities.”
As part of the project, ASTAC will also replace copper cabling with fiber optics to roughly 261 homes, businesses, and institutions. Consistent with the goals established by the United States National Broadband Plan and the Arctic Council’s Arctic Broadband Initiative, these upgrades provide terrestrial broadband connecting Anaktuvuk Pass to the existing Dalton fiber onto ASTAC’s central office in Deadhorse and Point Lay by way of Point Hope.
ASTAC anticipates the project to begin in 2023, with a projected in-service date of mid-2025.
The NTIA grant to Port Lions is part of GCI’s subsea fiber network to deliver 2 Gbps residential internet speeds from Kodiak Island to the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. When complete, the AU-Aleutians Fiber Project will deliver high-speed broadband service to the approximately 7,000 Alaskans in Unalaska, Akutan, King Cove, Sand Point, Chignik Bay, and Larsen Bay.
“Everyone agrees that fiber provides the fastest and most reliable broadband service, and we’re excited to partner with GCI to extend fiber-based internet service further into the Aleutians and across Kodiak Island,” says Nancy Nelson, president of the Native Village of Port Lions. “And this isn’t just about our community. The NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide and bring digital equity throughout the region and the state.”
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is distributing more than $1 billion for tribal broadband initiatives across the nation. Last month, Doyon, Limited and Ahtna split $51 million from NTIA for the Alaska FiberOptic Project to connect five Yukon River villages to high-speed internet.
“The GCI team is absolutely thrilled,” says GCI Director of Rural Affairs Jen Nelson. “This partnership with the Native Village of Port Lions means GCI can expand its AU-Aleutians Fiber Network, which is currently in construction, to provide high-speed broadband data connectivity to six additional communities in the region.”
Changing the Game
More than 800 miles of AU-Aleutians fiber coiled inside the cargo hold of M/V Vertom Thea in Germany, where it was fabricated.
The new buildout expands on the foundation of GCI’s AU-Aleutians Fiber Project, a $58 million project that, when complete, will be comprised of more than 800 miles of subsea fiber and local fiber-to-the-premises networks in each community. That project is scheduled to deliver 2 gig service to consumers in Unalaska later this year.
“We’re pleased the NTIA recognized the importance of bringing digital equity to the region,” says Tyler Kornelis, project coordinator for the Kodiak Area Native Association. “As the organization that has provided resources for improved health and wellbeing to communities throughout the Kodiak region, we believe that healthy individuals live in healthy communities. This new, high-speed service will be a complete game changer as we work to further elevate the quality of life for those we serve.”
The project award was the result of a collaboration among local agencies, businesses, tribal organizations, and leaders from across the region.
“The project will effectively close the digital divide between these Aleutian communities and urban Alaska,” says GCI Senior Vice President of Corporate Development Billy Wailand. “Fiber service will be a game-changer for consumers, fishing and maritime industries, schools, and clinics, and will help these remote communities to realize their full economic potential.”