Under the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, NANA has been awarded a $68,479,799 broadband infrastructure deployment grant to complete the design, permitting, and installation of a broadband network of 1,100 kilometers, or 683 miles, of middle mile submarine fiberoptic cable connecting the eleven geographically dispersed tribal villages in the NANA region.
Our region is vast, sparsely populated, and isolated; no roads connect our villages to each other or our region to greater Alaska. Practically all necessities for life are barged or flown into the region, resulting in extremely high prices for basic goods, including food, fuel, and building materials. Located at the extreme northwestern edge of the North American continent, above the Arctic Circle, the region is without true broadband and the available internet is inadequate with extremely poor connectivity, slow access, and prices that are beyond the reach of most residents. Internet adoption rates are low and many things taken for granted elsewhere are not available in the region, including distance learning, telehealth, or work from home opportunities. COVID-19 devastated NANA families and communities in our region and highlighted this digital divide. While in other areas of the country, people were able to leverage the digital economy to adapt to pandemic lockdowns with online shopping, learning, and working, unfortunately, these were beyond the reach of the tribal Alaskan population in the NANA region.
With this middle mile, we will install a fixed wireless last mile in each village. NANA will form a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) to deliver reliable, fast, and affordable broadband services to residents in the villages. Because of lead time associated with permitting and the ambitious construction effort entailed in installing a submarine fiberoptic network in the Arctic where the construction season is limited, we expect this effort to take four years. This WISP will provide residential service of 30/10 Mbps download/upload with unlimited data per household. This service level surpasses the limited offerings currently available in the region where all communities are considered unserved by NTIA standards.
We will create temporary and permanent local jobs for regional residents; 50 temporary jobs during construction and 13 permanent jobs to operate and maintain the network and provide customer service.
As an inherently regional entity, NANA supports NTIA’s emphasis on regional solutions. We have collaborated in the past with other regional entities including Northwest Arctic Borough, the Northwest Arctic School District, Maniilaq Association (regional tribal health consortium), the Alaska Technical Center, and others. We have addressed such challenges as workforce development, clean energy, and infrastructure development. NANA looks forward to continue our partnership with regional leadership to ensure broadband access to all regional residents, businesses, and schools. Our successful approach to this grant was a truly regional solution.
This project will deliver broadband access and bring digital equity to key tribal communities in our region and will serve as a catalyst for lasting change for this generation and the generations to come. NANA has the community support, technical expertise, and leadership to succeed – and now we have the means to do it!