The Alaska State Legislature has passed a bill aimed at bringing affordable high-speed Internet access to rural Alaska. The bill now awaits a signature from Governor Mike Dunleavy. The bill creates a statewide Office of Broadband, which has a lot of work ahead of it.
Earlier this year, the United States passed a federal infrastructure bill that set aside $65 billion for broadband projects in the United States. It prioritizes unserved and underserved communities.
The Representative who drafted the bill, Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, said Alaska should win at least $1 billion to $2 billion in federal funding for broadband infrastructure. However, when you factor in a separate allocation of broadband dollars for tribes, that actual amount is likely to be much higher. Edgmon said his bill puts in place systems for the state to receive that funding and direct it to internet infrastructure projects.
The bill creates a broadband office, sets up an advisory council and creates a broadband “parity fund” to equalize costs.
The Broadband Office will receive and distribute federal dollars from the infrastructure bill. But first, he’ll have to create a map showing where Alaskans have limited or no access to high-speed internet.
The advisory board would consist of 13 voting members, including 11 governor-appointed members. Two of them must be from unserved or underserved communities, although none of the members will be reimbursed for travel to meetings or receive a per diem for food or lodging.
The bill also requires the office to be “technology-neutral.” This means that the office cannot favor one type of Internet technology over another, such as satellites over fiber optic cables. However, each technology will need to meet certain minimum requirements for things like speed and reliability.
The bill also aims to make high-speed Internet affordable for all Alaskans. The broadband parity fund that would keep costs in rural areas similar to costs in urban areas. Edgmon said the parity fund will be funded by the federal government.
If affordable high-speed Internet comes to rural communities, residents can save money. YK Delta residents with low-speed internet access can pay hundreds of dollars a month on their bills for limited internet access. Alaskans in urban areas pay much less for unlimited broadband internet.