Millions in Federal Grants Awarded for Rural Internet in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — More than $100 million in grants has been announced by the federal government as part of a major effort to bridge the digital divide in parts of rural Alaska.

The projects will improve an existing internet service system which is a series of microwave transmitters with limited data transmission and weather vulnerability, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The grants include $73 million for a partnership between the Alaska Native Village Society for Bethel, Bethel Native Corporation and telecommunications company GCI. This partnership, announced on Monday, aims to provide fiber optic cable to 10 villages and more than 10,000 people. The project has been dubbed the Airraq network, with Airraq translating to “channel that tells the story”, according to a press release.

The project includes $42 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to build a fiber optic network to the central regional community of Bethel and the villages of Eek, Oscarville, Napaskiak and Platinum, according to the release. A $31 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service program will bring fiber service to the villages of Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak and Tuntutuliak.

The release says the project would bring “2 gigabit internet speeds and affordable plans to more than 10,000 Alaskans.”

In addition, another telecommunications company, Alaska Communications and Calista Corp., the regional Alaska Native corporation for much of Southwest Alaska, will receive a grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to provide the high-speed fiber-optic internet to more than 2,300 Alaskans in seven other villages in the Bethel area, the organizations recently announced. These communities are Lower Kalskag, Upper Kalskag, Tuluksak, Akiak, Akiachak, Kwethluk and Napakiak.

Calista Corp. and Alaska Communications have requested about $52 million, but no specific funding was announced Monday by the federal government, said Thom Leonard, a Calista spokesman.

Funding from last year’s federal infrastructure bill and other sources has been hailed by political leaders and officials from Alaska Native organizations and telecommunications companies as providing a unique opportunity to improve telecommunications in many parts of the state.

Earlier this year, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced a $50 million grant to provide fiber optic cable to approximately 20 villages in interior Alaska as part of a collaboration between Doyon Inc. , an Alaska Native company, and Alaska Communications.

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