Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have commended the allocation of nearly $54 million in additional grants through the federal Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. One of the grants is worth $4.5 million and will be used to purchase and install Starlink, a low Earth orbit satellite communications network owned by SpaceX, in 1,410 homes and nine community institutions on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
Alaska has already received over $400 million under the tribal program, with most of the funds being used for fiber-optic network projects led by GCI, the primary internet service provider for Western Alaska, and its partners. This recent grant announcement is the first mention of federal funding for Starlink in Alaska.
The need for backup options became apparent earlier this year when GCI customers experienced network disruptions due to a subsea fiber-optic cable cut in the Beaufort Sea. The repair of the cable and full restoration of service highlighted the importance of broadband redundancy for rural communities.
The remainder of the nearly $54 million in tribal broadband grants is distributed among seven other projects. More than half of the funding is allocated to Alaska Tribal Spectrum, which aims to bring “2.5Ghz spectrum and/or satellite service” to unserved tribal households, businesses, and community institutions across Alaska.
The specific grants include:
1. Igiugig Village: $8 million for planning, engineering, feasibility, and sustainability studies. The project will serve 16 Alaska Native Villages and complete in-depth feasibility studies, last-mile design, and construction cost estimates.
2. Alaska Tribal Spectrum: $29.5 million to install a wireless network using Tribally-controlled 2.5Ghz spectrum and/or satellite service, connecting a total of 2,569 unserved Tribal households, 125 unserved Tribal businesses, and 89 Tribal community anchor institutions with qualified broadband speeds.
3. Alaska Village Initiatives: $7 million to construct last-mile wireless deployment infrastructure in 13 Alaska Native Villages by utilizing 2.5Ghz licensed spectrum. The project will also deploy fiber to the premise in one Alaska Native Village.
4. Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor: $500,000 to upgrade equipment in the current system to deliver qualifying broadband service to 72 unserved Tribal households.
5. Benhti Economic Development Corporation: $999,997 for pre-construction planning, engineering, design, and permitting of last-mile network services. The project aims to build broadband networks in the Native Village of Minto and the Manley Hot Springs.
6. Chugachmiut: $991,974 to provide satellite internet service subsidies for the Native Village of Nanwalek and the Native Village of Port Graham.
7. Huna Totem Corporation: $2,467,546 to provide minimal upgrades to network and customer equipment and offer three years of subsidized service to Native households.
8. Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Tribal Broadband: $4.5 million to purchase and install Starlink in 1,410 homes and nine community anchor institutions.
These grants aim to improve broadband connectivity and offer reliable internet access to underserved tribal communities in Alaska.