Starlink connections among latest round of tribal broadband funding for Alaska

a wireless tower
GCI’s wireless tower at Watson’s Corner in Bethel is seen on June 27, 2023. (Evan Erickson/KYUK)

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are applauding nearly $54 million in additional grants this month under the federal Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

Among the grants is $4.5 million to purchase and install Starlink, a low Earth orbit satellite communications network owned by SpaceX, in 1,410 homes and nine community institutions on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Alaska has thus far received more than $400 million under the tribal program, most of which is going to fiber-optic network projects spearheaded by GCI, the primary internet service provider for Western Alaska, and its partners. The Sept. 19 grant announcement is the first mention of federal funding for Starlink in Alaska.

Sen. Murkowski’s director of communications, Joe Plesha, said that the summer-long network disruptions experienced by GCI customers following a subsea fiber-optic cable cut in the Beaufort Sea showed a need for backup options.

“It’s great that it’s been repaired and service has been fully restored, but it really underscores the importance of broadband redundancy for our rural communities so that our networks are resilient to outages,” Plesha said.

The remainder of the nearly $54 million in tribal broadband grants is spread among seven other projects, with more than half going to Alaska Tribal Spectrum, a project to bring “2.5Ghz spectrum and/or satellite service” to unserved tribal households, businesses, and community institutions across Alaska.

The specific grants include:

Igiugig Village: $8 million for planning, engineering, feasibility, and sustainability studies. The project will serve 16 Alaska Native Villages and complete in-depth feasibility studies, last-mile design, and construction cost estimates.

Alaska Tribal Spectrum: $29.5 million to install a wireless network using a Tribally-controlled 2.5Ghz spectrum and/or satellite service to directly connect a total of 2,569 unserved Tribal households, 125 unserved Tribal businesses, and 89 Tribal community anchor institutions with qualified broadband speeds.

Alaska Village Initiatives: $7 million to construct last-mile wireless deployment infrastructure in 13 of the Alaska Native Villages in the Consortium by utilizing 2.5Ghz licensed spectrum. Additionally, the project will also deploy fiber to the premise in one Alaska Native Village.

Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor: $500,000 to upgrade equipment in the current system in order to deliver qualifying broadband service to 72 unserved Tribal households.

Benhti Economic Development Corporation: $999,997 for the pre-construction planning, engineering, design, and permitting of last-mile network services. The project will create a shovel-ready project to build broadband networks in the Native Village of Minto and of Manley Hot Springs.

Chugachmiut: $991,974 to provide satellite internet service subsidies for the Native Village of Nanwalek and the Native Village of Port Graham.

Huna Totem Corporation: $2,467,546 to provide minimal upgrades to network and customer equipment in addition to providing Native households with three years of subsidies service.

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Tribal Broadband: $4.5 million to purchase and install Starlink to 1,410 homes and nine community anchor institutions.

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