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Aiming to bring broadband to every far-flung community in Alaska

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times

Giving every Alaskan access to broadband technology is still a vision of the future, but the Alaska Broadband Task Force is trying to make this a reality, task force member Bill Popp told a Southwest Alaska economic summit recently.

The vision of the Alaska Broadband Task Force is that by 2020, every Alaskan will have access to 100 megabits per second of broadband connectivity, and this is no small task, Popp told the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference at its annual economic summit in Anchorage.

The plan is focused on finding the middle ground of a public-private partnership, and to extend it throughout Alaska, said Popp, executive director of the Anchorage Economic Development Commission.

Broadband, simply defined, is a fast connection to the Internet that is always on. It allows those with computer access to send emails, surf the web, download images and music, watch videos, participate in conferences on the web, and more.

The task force has been meeting for about two years in support of the goal of statewide broadband.

With no engineering plan and just an estimated cost per mile plan to do, the task force has a gross estimate of about $1 billion to lay this system across rural Alaska, and another $200 million to upgrade urban areas, Popp said.

The task force is getting to the point where we will have the draft plan ready to submit to Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell, who will review it, send it back to the task force if she thinks it needs more work, and then send it on to Gov. Sean Parnell, Popp said.

While broadcast is considered vital to meet future expectations of a range of services from telemedicine to education to public safety, there is no indication yet of where the funding will come from.

Popp urged participants in the economic summit to read information on the task force's website and submit comments.

The payoff, he said, is that broadband will encourage entrepreneurship, and drive down the cost of living in individual communities. Each community would have to make its own "last mile" choices, considering the cost involved in deciding whether to have community Wi-Fi at a central location or whether to bring broadband to a number of individual business and residential locations.

"It's a game changer (that) will make the economy more competitive," Popp said. "It's going to be all about connectivity and broadband communications."

Margaret Bauman is a reporter for the Cordova Times, where this originally appeared.  Reprinted with permission.