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Economy

ONC Chooses Fiber To Bring High-Speed, Broadband Internet To Bethel

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Orutsararmiut Native Council
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Bethel’s tribe, ONC, has chosen fiber over satellites to deliver high-speed broadband internet to Bethel. In doing so, it withdrew from a consortium of tribes that it helped create.

  

ONC went with speed and capacity. Fiber, at 1 gigabit per second download speeds, is both 40 times faster than satellite internet and offers unlimited data.

To bring fiber to Bethel, ONC is partnering with the Bethel Native Corporation and telecommunications company GCI. Four other communities along the fiber cable route would also receive fiber: Napaskiak, Platinum, Eek, and Oscarville. BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman said that as of Aug. 25, all but one of those tribes had given consent for the fiber project. 

ONC Chairman Walter Jim said he believed that fiber was the higher quality internet option for Bethel over satellites. He also said that ONC went with the fiber project because it was backed by BNC. “They’re our village corporation,” Jim said.

Four of ONC’s council members also sit on BNC’s board of directors. Jim said that ONC’s attorney advised council members that there was no conflict of interest for the council’s decision to support BNC’s fiber proposal.

ONC could only pick one project, either fiber or satellites, to support in a federal grant application. The National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program is intended to expand broadband access for tribes, and requires consent from an area’s governing tribe to apply.

By choosing fiber, ONC walked away from a group it helped create. ONC was one of the founding members of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium, a non-profit tribal organization that is planning to use satellites to bring high-speed, broadband internet to the region. The consortium released a statement on Aug. 25 saying that ONC had withdrawn from its group. The consortium’s president and CEO Kevin Hamer said that ONC was surrendering tribal control over its internet infrastructure to GCI.

For the rest of the communities in the region, satellites remain an option to more than double internet speeds, boost bandwidth, and bring down costs. The Y-K Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium is still working on bringing satellite internet to 17 other tribes in the region. 

Akiak, a founding member of the consortium, is set to be the first community in the region to receive broadband internet this year, with the remaining tribes scheduled to receive it next year. The consortium also said that it is working on delivering fiber to its member tribes in the next two to three years.

GCI said that it will start building the fiber route from Dillingham to Bethel in 2022, and expects to finish by 2024.

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