JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska could receive more than $1 billion from the recently passed federal infrastructure package for high-speed broadband networks, which an official with the Alaska Telecom Association said would be "transformational."
Christine O'Connor, the association's executive director, also told Anchorage television station KTUU that the funding represents a significant opportunity to make investments in broadband.
"We've never seen an environment like this before for broadband," she said.
O'Connor was a member of a broadband task force established by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that recently released a report on improving internet access.
It wasn't the first time a group has looked at the issue. Another task force in 2014 recommended the creation of a state broadband office and called for all Alaskans to have high-speed internet by 2020.
But O'Connor said the infrastructure funding represents a game changer.
The federal package, supported by Alaska's congressional delegation, is expected to provide more than $1 billion to the state for high-speed broadband. Funding also is expected for tribes across the country.
The task force report says projects currently are underway that will bring new broadband service to more than 13,000 Alaskans in rural areas over the next two years.
Dozens of Alaska communities are considered "unserved" for broadband because they lack certain download and upload speeds.
The bill proposes delivering high-speed broadband to all Alaskans within five years, which Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, called an ambitious goal.
"I think we know that in Alaska it's going to take time," said Andreassen, who also was on the state's latest broadband task force.
Among the group's recommendations was that the state prioritize investing in fiber cables as the "gold standard" for new broadband networks. O'Connor said fiber has "almost unlimited upgradable, scalable capability."
The task force found that access isn't the only issue to consider and that affordability is another factor.
In rural areas, internet can cost more than $300 a month now. The group said partnerships between service providers and government programs are important to achieving affordable service.
The group also proposed the formation of a state broadband office.