USDA Invests Nearly $19 Million in Rural Broadband for Alaskan Families
CORDOVA—US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Alaska State Director for Rural Development Jerry Ward announced USDA has invested $18.88 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure that will create or improve rural e-Connectivity for nearly 270 rural households in Yakutat. This is one of many funding announcements in the first round of USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program investments.
“Geographic isolation should no longer be a barrier to economic prosperity, especially here in Alaska,” Ward said. “With ReConnect, we are bridging the so-called ‘digital divide’ and bringing modern communications to rural Alaskan communities like Yakutat. Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”
Nathan Moulton, Executive Director of Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, added “The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and our members are excited to work with Cordova Telecom to bring high-speed broadband to Yakutat. The USDA grant investment in Yakutat will positively impact lives and opportunities for everyone in our community.”
The project, dubbed NICEY (New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat), will deliver broadband internet service to all 662 year-round residents and businesses in Yakutat via fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections. Yakutat will be connected to Cordova’s submarine fiber optics via a new microwave middle-mile network spanning 230 miles between the two communities.
Like seafood processing, hospitality, and the oil industry, trucking has traditionally been an Alaska industry that depends heavily on out-of-state workers. According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s most recent report on nonresident workers, out-of-state drivers represented 18.5 percent of the workforce of 3,602 heavy and tractor-trailer drivers in 2016. That category of driver made an average quarterly wage of almost $14,000 that year. The nonresident count includes both seasonal workers and those who live elsewhere and regularly fly in for rotations.
Crum says that since 2016, oil and gas companies have flown in fewer commercial truck drivers from out of state. But he says the practice remains common in the seafood processing industry where companies frequently struggle to find qualified drivers at their remote plants.
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Meeting in the Middle
In January, when the Biden administration announced its ban on the future sale of oil and gas leases on federal land, the news understandably ruffled the collective feathers of Alaska’s oil and gas industry.