KETCHIKAN (KDN) — The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Metlakatla Power and Light are both set to receive millions of dollars in federal broadband infrastructure grants through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which announced nearly $136 million in grants to Alaska on Thursday.
The Central Council will receive nearly $50 million to install fixed wireless service and to deploy low-Earth orbiting satellite-enabled service to connect more than 14,000 unserved Alaska Native housholds to the internet, according to a summary of the grant details from the NTIA.
The grant awarded to the Central Council also will enable it to create a voucher program with existing service providers to provide all unserved households access to affordable qualifying broadband services, and to offer discounted subscriber rates to households with incomes blow 150% of the federal poverty annual income threshold, according to a Thursday press release from the Central Council.
Metlakatla Power and Light will receive $10.5 million to connect 586 Alaska Native households, as well as businesses and government entities, to fiber optic internet service. Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor Albert Smith praised the grant award in a Facebook post on Thursday.
“This important funding opportunity is another key step in the revitalization and modernization of our Community,” Smith wrote. “With high speed broadband, we can conduct business, healthcare and government operations much more efficiently and reliably. And, we become a more attractive location for business development. Also, this grant has a significant added benefit — the underwater broadband cable will also include a power line, which will allow us to finally complete the electrical intertie with Ketchikan.
"We, the Metlakatla Indian Community, are so grateful for this funding and excited for our community, and the region,” he added. “The future in Southeast Alaska is bright!”
The NTIA’s announcement named two other Alaska entities as grant money recipients: The NANA Regional Corporation and the Kenaitze Indian Tribe (IRA), which were awarded $68.5 million and $7 million, respectively.
Alaska’s federal delegation issued press releases about the announced funding on Thursday. A joint press release issued by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan noted: “These grants were largely made possible through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that both Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan played roles in crafting.”
"When I visit Alaska's rural and remote communities, one of the top issues raised to me is the lack of internet connectivity, as well as the astronomical cost of the limited broadband speeds that do exist — impacting education, healthcare, opportunities for economic development, and more,” said Murkowski in a prepared statement. "As a result of the bipartisan infrastructure law, we continue to see investments in broadband for communities across the state. Improving access, reliability, and affordably for Alaskans – in urban and rural hubs – is paramount."
"Access to high-speed, reliable internet can be life-changing for a community, enhancing the delivery of health care and education, and opening doors for small businesses and entrepreneurs," said Sullivan in a prepared statement. "Many of our rural, Alaska Native communities for too long have found themselves without the broadband connectivity that most Americans take for granted. I'm glad to see the significant federal infrastructure dollars we secured being deployed to break down the digital divide and improve the lives and well-being of thousands of Alaskans across Alaska."
Rep. Mary Peltola also issued a press release applauding the funding.
"The coronavirus pandemic has exposed exactly how vital broadband connectivity is in our modern world," said Peltola in a prepared statement. "A bridge to less onerous medical visits and greater educational and job opportunities, affordable, consistent broadband access has become more and more essential to community growth and well-being. With the funding announced today by NTIA through the TBCP, households across Alaska will soon be able to utilize this critical resource.”
Peltola added that she “remains eager to work with my congressional colleagues, our rural communities, and telecom providers to ensure every Alaskan receives the broadband access they deserve, regardless of where they live.”
The joint press release from Murkowski and Sullivan notes that “Alaska has now received more than $2.5 billion total from the IIJA, which includes broadband investments, with billions more expected to flow to the state in the months and years ahead.”