Rural Alaska

Millions of dollars heading to Alaska Native communities to support fast, affordable internet access

Alaska Native communities will receive about $41.5 million to make fast internet more affordable and help residents access telehealth, economic opportunities and remote learning.

Nearly $77 million will be distributed across 10 states in the latest round of funding through the federal Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Wednesday.

Alaska is receiving the biggest share of this round of grant funding. About $35.1 million, or nearly half of the total amount, will go to the Alaska Federation of Natives to subsidize internet service, provide computer packages, help tribal communities access telehealth and offer digital skills training, according to the Commerce Department.

In 2021, AFN created a broadband consortium consisting of 74 Alaska Native tribal governments, organizations and corporations. That coordinated effort, according to AFN co-chair Ana Hoffman, helped them receive an award of this size.

“The digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning opportunities that AFN’s broadband consortium will bring about over the next year will serve all Alaskans, Native and non-Native alike, for decades to come,” AFN co-chair Joe Nelson said in a prepared statement.

One consortium member — MTNT Ltd., a village corporation representing McGrath, Takotna, Nikolai and Telida in the Interior — wanted to apply for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program last year but “didn’t have the manpower or money to make it happen,” CEO Michele Christiansen said in the statement. Christiansen added that joining the consortium was “our best option.”

[Alaska internet ‘gold rush’: Billions could be headed to rural communities to close the digital divide]

Aside from the funding for AFN’s broadband consortium, other Alaska tribal entities will also receive grant awards through the federal program. That includes about $1.9 million to Cape Fox Corp. in Ketchikan, $2.5 million to Kotzebue’s tribal government and more than $2 million to the Skagway Traditional Council, where the money will help provide high-speed internet service at no cost, according to the Commerce Department.

Some places in Alaska have no internet at all, and some communities with only limited access are considered unserved. As of last summer, 249 Alaska villages and towns lacked internet speeds suitable for real-time applications, according to a November report from the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.

Through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, 33 awards totaling more than $83 million have been made so far. The bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November provided an additional $2 billion in funding for the program.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.