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Broadband Grant Leaves Alaskan Village ‘Giddy’

September 30, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
Broadband Grant Leaves Alaskan Village ‘Giddy’
A radio scientist from Stanford University at the Port Lions post office. (Photo by Nimur via Wikimediacommons)

PORT LIONS, Alaska — The residents of the native village of Port Lions and surrounding Alaskan villages are “giddy” at the thought of getting internet through the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, said Denise May, the tribal administer for Port Lions.

“This breakthrough is like when there was a telephone in everyone’s house,” May said in a phone interview Thursday. “Now it’s going to be internet in every house. We’re keeping up. We’re able to keep up, that’s so cool.”

Her village, located on Kodiak Island, partnered with surrounding villages on the island off the coast of southwest Alaska and the Bristol Bay region to get the $29.3 million grant to install fiber-optic high-speed internet with gigabit speeds to 930 unserved Native American households that previously had no internet at all. Other businesses will be able to get these services as well.

And it’s guaranteed to be affordable, which is the best part, she said.

As the village administrator, May needs home internet to do her job. She ends up paying between $400 to $600 a month for the internet because she typically goes over her limited package, she said. Some internet packages go for over $1,000 for her residents as well, she said.

However, the company getting the grant through NTIA’s program has promised to cap prices for unlimited gigabit plans at $179 a month.

“The biggest impact is the affordability because you can bring internet into any one of these communities, but if you have a depressed economy people can’t afford it and can’t use it,” May said. “If you make it affordable you will be able to bring people out of that depressed economy.”

The internet is particularly important to helping her residents get better access to jobs and education.

“It means a chance at rebuilding our economy after we lost a lot of opportunities through the privatization of fisheries,” May said.

It also means access to telehealth services and other connections to the world, she added.

“It was a difficult thing for us during the pandemic because people had to stay home and the cost of the internet was astronomical,” May said. 

Instead, people sat outside libraries in their cars connecting to the wireless internet to upload and download their work, she said.

The fiber optic cables will be up and running sometime in 2024, and she’s received “overwhelming” gratitude from her neighbors upon hearing this news, she said.

Port Lions is one of the many rural villages with its own challenges that are receiving this type of grant through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which was created through bipartisan pandemic relief stimulus legislation, including the infrastructure act. The program has dispensed 70 awards totaling $755,737,402.24 for 70 different projects so far, and there’s $3 billion total allocated for these programs. 

“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 Sen. Dan Sullivan in a 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 Alaskans in the Port Lions area.” 

“It’s always taken teamwork to make life easier in Port Lions Village,” May said, explaining life in rural Alaska. And she’s happy to see how the government has come together to help make it even better with internet access, she said.

“All of those people working together made this such a beautiful story,” May said. “Our region and our people work in unison together, and that makes us better. That’s what makes everything better.”

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com and @ByMaddieHughes

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