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  6.  | Federal Financing Supports Broadband Expansions in Northwest Alaska by Fastwyre and Unicom

Federal Financing Supports Broadband Expansions in Northwest Alaska by Fastwyre and Unicom

Jul 19, 2023 | Government, News, Telecom & Tech

Outskirts of Nome in March 2022.

Airman 1st Class Patrick Sullivan | JBER Public Affairs

Federal financing is helping two telecommunications companies expand internet access in Northwest Alaska. The US Department of Agriculture awarded two grants totaling $70 million to Fastwyre Broadband, formerly TelAlaska, while GCI subsidiary Unicom is working with $9 million secured under the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC).

Fiber to Nome

The Fastwyre project is expected to benefit an estimated 3,000 people in the Nome Census Area by connecting communities to a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network. Fastwyre anticipates construction will start later this year.

“Fastwyre is grateful for the federal support to fuel our continued efforts to shrink the digital divide in Alaska by improving and increasing access to the fastest internet service available through our fiber-optic network,” says Chris Eldredge, CEO of Fastwyre. “We have a long track record of partnering with communities in Alaska, and we look forward to further contributing to essential enhancements to the state’s digital communications infrastructure.”

The grants of $35 million apiece were formally awarded Interior and Mukluk Telephone Companies, both subsidiaries of the recently rebranded Telalaska; Fastwyre itself is a portfolio company of Catania ABC Partners and Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners. Fastwyre is also working to complete two grant-funded projects to provide fiber-centric solutions to the communities of Teller, Brevig Mission, and Port Lions.

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Unicom’s effort is aimed at expanding broadband internet into Deering and Kivalina in the Northwest Arctic Borough. Due to the network’s location and relatively low user base, with about 634 residents, McKinley Alaska Growth Capital (MAGC) collaborated with US Bank to secure flexible and affordable financing under the NMTC program.

MAGC advisory board member Gary Ferguson II, vice chair of Aleut Corporation, understands firsthand the benefits of broadband across rural Alaska. “It’s almost impossible to have any kind of video meeting,” Ferguson says. “Access to fast, reliable internet will support advanced business operations as well as be a huge bonus for community residents.”

In 2011, when MAGC was still part of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, the firm provided financing support under the NMTC program for GCI Unicom’s first network expansion in western Alaska. More than a decade later, MAGC continued its support of Unicom with an NMTC investment in 2022 to bring broadband internet to the Aleutians.

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