Senator Murkowski Raises Middle Mile and Tribal Infrastructure in Alaska to Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently took part in a U.S. Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on expanding America’s broadband access through programs contained within the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) which Senator Murkowski helped author and shepherd into law. During the hearing, Senator Murkowski questioned U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, on Alaska-specific priorities, including middle mile and Tribal broadband infrastructure.

Click here for video of Senator Murkowski. 

“In Alaska, so much of our concern is with middle mile infrastructure. And we’ve got good support within the infrastructure bill – $1 billion to deploy middle mile projects – so we are excited about that. But I have a concern about the mapping requirements versus the timeliness of getting funds out the door. Everyone wants to get the money out the door, but making sure that we have accurate maps is going to be critical, particularly for us in ensuring that the intent of the law, to serve the unserved before the underserved, is met. And so, it’s going to take time to do right. We understand the urgency, but what I’m hoping is that we can get some assurance that NTIA will be sensitive to the diverse needs in different states to get the right solutions. And maybe this requires a little bit of flexibility and a little bit of interagency coordination but we would hope you’re understanding some of the challenges that we face in a state like Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski.

Secretary Raimondo assured Senator Murkowski that in light of their numerous conversations, she recognizes Alaska’s unique and diverse challenges, including its vast geography.

“We aren’t going to put the money out before we have the maps. We won’t – we can’t,” Raimondo said. “There will be the $5 million planning grant and we’ll get to work, but we can’t let the money flow until we have the maps.”

Senator Murkowski voiced her appreciation for Secretary Raimondo’s commitment while reiterating her concern for Alaskans who see other regions of the nation receiving awards while accurate maps are developed and the anxiety it may cause.

Senator Murkowski went on to discuss the extraordinary need for improved broadband among Tribal communities in Alaska and called on Secretary Raimondo to ensure strong communication with Alaskans surrounding application requirements to ensure everyone remains in sync.

“You mention that there was $980 million in funding this program had and over $5 billion in applications by the deadline last September. We’ve got an additional $2 billion in funding through the infrastructure bill, but obviously need the need is extraordinary there. So I’m hoping that you can answer just a few procedural questions here. With the additional $2 billion that is coming for the [Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program] (TBCP), do projects that have already been approved for funding but haven’t yet received any money, do they need to resubmit their applications and if so, how are you communicating that with folks? Do you have additional staff you’ve added? How are you letting people know about the availability here?” asked Senator Murkowski.

Secretary Raimondo laid out the status of the additional funding for the Tribal broadband program.

“I think it makes a lot of sense that they not reapply for the reasons that you said. We’re going through it and I’ll have an answer for it shortly.,” Secretary Raimondo responded.  “We think we’re going to have to hire over 100 people at NTIA to administer all of these programs. And as I said, there will be a single point person on Alaska. So we will have to stay in close touch. But you’re right, I will say this. The $2 billion maps with the $1 billion, so the money is for the same kinds of things. So we are looking hard at saying you don’t have to reapply and doing it on a rolling basis, which is what we’re doing with the $1 billion.”

Background: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $65 billion in broadband funds divided between several programs or initiatives administered by the Department of Commerce. The largest of all these programs is for grants to states administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), but also includes programs for affordability, middle mile infrastructure, tribal connectivity, digital equity, and workforce training. The new law has received strong support from Alaskans across the state.