Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: TCC gets $30 million broadband grant for Interior villages

Another wave of federal broadband funding went to the Tanana Chiefs Conference to ensure high speed internet access for four Interior villages and communities in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.

The $30.3 million federal grant comes from the USDA’s ReConnect Program and is funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, according to an Oct. 28 news release from Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

The grant will eventually fund the construction of a high speed fiber project, something Murkowski said “will benefit from the transformational change this investment in broadband infrastructure will bring.

According to the USDA, the project will connect 246 households, 17 businesses and three educational facilities in the villages of Hughes, Huslia, Alatna and Allakaket.

TCC isn’t the first Alaska Native group to benefit from Infrastructure Act broadband funding. Doyon Limited received $50 million in August to connect communities including Fort Yukon, Beaver, Stevens Village, Rampart and Tanana in what the Native Corporation and its partners plan to be a multi-phase project to connect 20 communities along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.

“These investments in expanded connectivity will bring new opportunities for education, healthcare and economic development — truly real-life benefits for Alaskans,” Murkowski stated in the news release.

Brian Ridley, TCC’s Chief and Chairman, said the funding will help a “vital infrastructure project on behalf of our tribes along the Koyukuk River.”

“This network is a key part of TCC’s ongoing strategy to narrow the digital divide for our tribal members and to improve the standard of living for our people,” Ridley said in the Oct. 28 news release.

Sullivan said the grant-funded project will open up new opportunities.

“Many of our rural, Alaska Native communities for too long have found themselves without the broadband connectivity that most Americans take for granted,” Sullivan said. “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 thousands of Alaskans across the Interior of Alaska.”

The project timeline remains unclear, however, according to Dave Messier, TCC’s infrastructure division director, after the organization’s original project partner “took a step back.”

“We are working collaboratively to partner with another ISP for long term operations and maintenance on the system,” Messier told the News-Miner Sunday by email. “Tanana Chiefs Conference is also looking at the viability of standing up a tribally owned utility collaborative which will be better positioned to manage these assets over the long term.”

Messier said up until more recent Low Earth Orbit internet options — such as StarLink — became available, internet options in the four villages had been limited.

The options included “expensive, high latency geospatially located satellite internet options and a microwave network owned by DRS.”

“The max capacity of that microwave link, which serves 12 village clinics and over 2,000 people, is roughly [one gigabit] — the equivalent to a single residential GCI connection at Doyon Estates here in Fairbanks,” Messier said.

Tanana Chiefs’ original goal “called for a three-year timeline for buildout of the microwave network,” Messier said.

“We are working with USDA on some potential modifications to the original build plan that would increase capacity and reduce long term operating cost,” Messier said.

Overall, Alaska has received $461.2 million in federal broadband funding in 2022 from the Infrastructure Act.

By:  Jack Barnwell
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner