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Politics

Broadband bill passes the Alaska state legislature

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Katie Basile
/
KYUK
Akiak is the first community in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to access high speed internet.

The Alaska State Legislature has passed a bill whose aim is to bring affordable high speed internet to rural Alaska. The bill is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The bill creates a statewide Office of Broadband, which has a big job ahead of it.

Earlier this year, the U.S. passed a federal infrastructure bill that set aside $65 billion for broadband projects in the U.S. It prioritizes unserved and underserved communities.

The representative who wrote the bill, Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, said that Alaska stands to gain at least $1 billion to $2 billion in federal funding for broadband infrastructure. Though when you account for a separate allotment of broadband dollars headed to tribes, that actual amount will likely be much higher. Edgmon said that his bill sets up systems for the state to receive that funding and direct it towards internet infrastructure projects.

The bill creates a broadband office, sets up an advisory board, and creates a broadband “parity fund” to equalize costs.

The broadband office will receive and distribute the federal dollars that come in from the infrastructure bill. But first, it will have to create a map that shows where Alaskans have limited or no access to high-speed internet.

The advisory board would include 13 voting members, including 11 governor-appointed members. Two of them must come from unserved or underserved communities, though none of the members will be reimbursed for travel to meetings or be given per diem for food or lodging.

The bill also requires that the office be “technologically neutral.” That means the office can’t favor one type of internet technology over another, like satellites over fiber-optic cables. Each technology will, however, have to meet certain minimum requirements for things like speed and reliability.

The bill also aims to make high-speed internet affordable for all Alaskans. The broadband parity fund that would keep costs in rural areas similar to the costs in urban areas. Edgmon said that the parity fund will be federally funded.

If affordable high speed internet comes to rural communities, residents stand to save. Y-K Delta residents with low-speed internet can pay hundreds of dollars per month on their bills for limited internet. Alaskans in urban areas pay far less for unlimited, high-speed internet.

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