The region receives more than $73 million for fiber broadband service through two federal grants.
Reliable and Affordable High-Speed Internet Access is Coming to Western Alaska! Bethel Native Corporation (BNC), in partnership with GCI, Alaska’s largest telecommunications company, today (October 10, 2022) announced the launch of a partnership to bring fiber optic connectivity to the Yukon-Delta Kuskokwim in Alaska. The project will bring 2 gigabit internet speeds and affordable plans to more than 10,000 Alaskans.
At an event in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on Indigenous Peoples Day, partners announced more than $73 million in broadband grants recently awarded by the Connectivity Program Tribal Broadband Network (TBCP) from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the USDA. Rural Utility Reconnection Program.
The partners announced the project’s new name, Airraq Network (pronounced EYE-huck). Airraq, a traditional Yup’ik game similar to cat’s cradle, translates to “a string that tells the story.”
ABOUT THE GRANTS
The Bethel Native Corporation received a $42 million grant from the NTIA to build a fiber optic network to Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak and Oscarville.
• The 405-mile network will begin at Dillingham, follow an underwater route to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, then transition to an overland route to Bethel.
• As BNC’s subrecipient partner, GCI will build and operate the fiber network.
•GCI will upgrade its existing cable installation in Bethel and deploy fiber-to-the-premises local access networks in the other four communities.
• Consumers in these communities will have access to 2 gigabyte consumer broadband service plans that include unlimited data and affordable prices. Customers who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program will be entitled to free internet service.
• The service is expected to launch in Bethel at the end of 2024.
• The Bethel fiber project will connect in Dillingham to another NTIA-funded fiber project to be built by Nushagak Telephone, which in turn will connect to a USDA-funded fiber network RUS that connects to Anchorage. By leveraging other federal investments, BNC and GCI use every NTIA Bethel grant dollar in the most efficient way possible.
GCI was awarded a USDA RUS ReConnect grant of $31 million to build long distance fiber and local fiber in the YK Delta communities of Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak and Tuntutuliak.
• GCI will build and operate fiber and deploy fiber-to-the-premises local access networks in the five communities.
• Consumers in these communities will receive 2GB consumer broadband service packages that include access to unlimited data at affordable prices. Customers who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program will be entitled to free internet service.
•This project will connect to the fiber of Bethel, effectively mobilizing federal funds.
“Residents in the 10 subsidized communities are now looking forward to faster speeds, more data, and much more affordable plans in the years to come,” said Ana Hoffman, President and CEO of BNC. “The people of the YK Delta are resourceful, respectful and resilient. We have a strong sense of community and depend on working with our friends and neighbors to succeed. We know the value of presence, and that’s why I have so much confidence in this partnership between BNC and GCI and our collective commitment to providing this service together.
“Ana likes to say ‘first class people deserve first class Internet service.’ We couldn’t agree more,” said Greg Chapados, President and COO of GCI. “GCI promises the people of the YK Delta, our partner BNC, NTIA and RUS that we will build and operate a best-in-class network that will not only bridge, but eliminate the rural-urban digital divide for the 10+ 000 inhabitants. of Bethel and other communities served.
In addition to Indigenous and community stakeholders, the push for federal support for Alaska’s broadband projects, including the Airraq network, has also received broad support from state and federal leaders.
“I was a huge supporter of these projects and I’m thrilled with this announcement,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. “These types of infrastructure projects are among the largest investments in Alaska today. These projects will finally bring affordable high-speed Internet access to homes, businesses, schools and healthcare facilities. High-speed broadband service will attract more investment to Alaska; it will grow our economy. More importantly, it will create more employment opportunities for our young people in the communities where they live.
“Congratulations to Bethel Native Corporation and all the villages in the area who will benefit from this broadband expansion,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “We’ve been working hard on the infrastructure bill, doing everything we can to try to facilitate, through NTIA, those grants and opportunities that will truly connect all of Alaska, and specifically the Rural Alaska. From Kasigluk to Eek, you are going to see benefits. It’s a good reason to celebrate and I’m happy to be part of it.
“Access to reliable high-speed internet can change the lives of a community, improve the delivery of health care and education, and open doors for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “Many of our rural Alaska Native communities have been left without the broadband connectivity that most Americans take for granted for too long. I am pleased to see the significant federal infrastructure funds we have secured are being deployed to bridge the digital divide and improve the lives and well-being of thousands of Alaskans in the Lower Kuskokwim region.
“On this Indigenous Peoples Day, I am honored to join you in celebrating NTIA and USDA awards to Bethel Native Corporation and GCI,” said Rep. Mary Peltola. “Through this funding, fiber service will be offered to residents of 10 communities, including Bethel, my home. My kids and I can’t wait to enjoy the service we’ll have there once it’s built. And the name of the network is just perfect.
“It was a real pleasure to be able to visit so many of you in August,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson, recalling his trip to western Alaska over the summer. “On this trip, I was honored to meet so many community members in places like Napaskiak, Napakiak and Bethel to hear first-hand from leading educators and healthcare professionals. It was honestly humbling for me and our team who were there to hear first hand, to see the real connectivity challenges people are facing on the ground and the real impacts these grants could have. We know that providing connectivity to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta is essential, as we have heard. access to employment, health care, education, all the things your community needs, but as you have shown us so clearly during this visit, it is not only to bring the internet to the Yukon Delta is also about bringing all of you, your communities, your local knowledge, your beautiful culture to the wider internet community. And for that, I think we’re all going to be very grateful.
“It’s amazing, this big lift, and USDA Rural Development is so thrilled to be just a part of this federal funding and we’re so thrilled to be working alongside tribes, municipalities, and businesses.” telecommunications companies like GCI to connect truly remote and rural communities. ,” said USDA State Director of Rural Development for Alaska Julia Hnilicka. “I’ve had the honor of stepping out into the Yukon Delta several times this summer and I’ve just been, as a lifelong Alaskan, so blown away by the beauty and intricacy of the culture and I’m over- beyond words – thrilled to be a part of even a small part of sharing this culture with the world. Internet connectivity is not only about what it brings, but also what we can share from the ‘Alaska.
“It was truly an honor for me to work with Bethel Native Corporation as well as GCI as we worked through the process of completing this application,” said NTIA Division Chief, Tribal Connectivity and Nation-to-Nation Coordination Adam Geisler. “We are now entering an era where access to affordable and reliable broadband service will be within reach here for the very near future and, again, I want to emphasize affordability.”