The window for Native Alaskan tribes to apply for grants to build broadband infrastructure ends Wednesday evening.
About 60,000 people in Alaska live without broadband, hampering access to services such as telemedicine and distance education. In an effort to help communities bridge this “digital divide,” the federal government has offered $ 980 million to help provide broadband to Indigenous tribes across the country.
Alaska tribal specter, a Kenai-based nonprofit, is one of many organizations trying to help tribes bring broadband to their communities. The company aims to bring all of the tribes in the state together in a statewide network.
Dennis Robinson, who serves as chairman of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said more than 100 tribes have joined the consortium so far, but he expects a last-minute rush as the deadline approaches.
“We realized that not all tribes will have the means to apply for this, or even the knowledge to apply for and benefit from it,” Robinson said.
But Robinson is not alone in recognizing the challenges of building broadband infrastructure in rural Alaska.
The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference also has plans to help bring broadband access to underserved communities.
“It’s probably going to get a little complicated and a little tricky,” said executive director Shirley Marquardt. “For anyone who is not completely immersed in communications technology, this is Latin.”
To simplify the process, the regional organization has partnered with Alaska Tribal Broadband, an indigenous-owned telecommunications company, to help communities develop their broadband infrastructure. Their plan is called Broadband in a box, which Marquardt says helps communities build and manage their technology systems.
Despite the various organizations offering support, some tribes seek funding individually and negotiate their own arrangements.
Even though the tribes apply for the grants individually, Robinson still urges the tribes to come together. He says there is strength in numbers.
“Our door is always open,” said Robinson. “Eventually you will see the benefits of what we have here. And speaking with a big voice and with one voice would be much better than a million small voices.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Wednesday was the deadline for Native Alaskan tribes to apply for broadband licenses. In fact, this is the deadline to apply for grants to build broadband infrastructure.