The Connected Nation Blog: Building Broadband Infrastructure: Alaska Under Construction

Friday, August 26, 2011

Building Broadband Infrastructure: Alaska Under Construction

By Jeremy Thacker, Communications Specialist, Connect Alaska

When it comes to Internet connection, there’s simply no state that faces Alaska’s challenges to broadband expansion. The job is immense and expensive, but with life-saving technologies and opportunities for economic growth at stake, it’s clear that the price of continued isolation is even more costly.

Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, USDA RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein & USDA Rural Development Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund

It’s a landscape that Alaska Senator Mark Begich knows well. This week, he’s sharing his experience with the head of the Federal Communications Commission. Chairman Julius Genachowski found himself at a construction site on Thursday that is promising a major step forward in connecting bush Alaska to fast and reliable high-speed Internet. Our team was there with them to see the site of this historic broadband project first-hand. When it’s complete, TERRA-Southwest is set to provide broadband service to 65 communities and more than 9,000 households in the Bristol Bay and Yukon Kuskokwim Delta regions.
Senator Mark Begich leads TERRA-Southwest Ribbon-Cutting

Senator Begich and Chairman Genachowski were joined by Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, USDA, Alaska DCCED, and several of the state’s Broadband Task Force members for a ceremonial ribbon cutting at CGI’s centerpiece construction site near Dillingham. GCI is Alaska's largest telecommunications company. It’s using $88 million made up of both federal loans and stimulus money to build an infrastructure it’s calling, “A historic investment.” According to the company’s website, TERRA-Southwest, “ Will provide the first ever high speed fiber optic and microwave connection to Southwest Alaska.”

The prospect of faster and more reliable broadband service is something that Connect Alaska staff hears excitement about from residents in every town they visit. Quality broadband brings telemedicine, educational opportunities, jobs, and direct access to state and federal government that many Alaska bush villages have never had. And those opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg. Recent Connect Alaska research shows that local business using broadband earn an average of $100,000 more each year in revenue, yet nearly a third either don’t or aren’t able to subscribe.

Kulukak Mountain Microwave Repeater Site
TERRA-Southwest broadband is set to connect to communities by the end of the year. And when area homes and businesses start getting the equipment they need to connect to the new service early next year, it will certainly mark a new era in opportunity for the entire region. In the meantime, state and local leaders are looking carefully at the project as they focus on the Connect Alaska mission of figuring out how to spread quality broadband service to every corner of the state.

For more on the TERRA-Southwest project, you can watch KTUU Channel 2’s “Closer Look” report by reporter Rhonda McBride.

Today, we are covering the Alaska Broadband Task Force meeting and a roundtable discussion with Senator Begich and Chairman Genachowski. Follow us on Twitter for updates: