- By Chez Oxendine
- Economic Development
Project Summary: This Broadband Use and Adoption project proposes a consortium of 73 Alaska Native Tribal governments, Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), and tribal organizations to reduce barriers to broadband usage among Native Alaskans by providing broadband-enabled devices, subsidizing broadband service and implementing digital skills and workforce training. It will also seek to improve healthcare access among tribal communities by equipping Alaska tribal health partners with the resources to offer telehealth services.
Update: In May 2022, the Alaska Federation of Natives convened a 73-tribe consortium to apply for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The goal was to bring together tribes that lacked the resources to apply for the large grant awards needed to bring people online amid geographical challenges, soaring costs, and low equipment adoption prevalent in the region.
“We explored the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program last year, and we wanted to apply, but we didn’t have the manpower or the money to make it happen,” said Michele Christiansen, CEO of four-village Alaska Native Corporation MTNT, in a statement when AFN’s award was announced. “AFN’s invitation to join its broadband consortium was not just our only option – it was our best option.”
At the time of the award, the $35 million was one of the program’s largest dispersals yet, providing the funds for AFN to embark on a seven-pronged approach to connecting a huge swathe of rural Alaska to the internet.
Those prongs include needs assessments, surveys to local technicians called “Circuit Riders,” workforce development, and device distribution through bundled computer packages such as desktops, laptops, or tablets.
The project also includes a plan to help tribal members subsidize their monthly internet bills — some of which can reach hundreds of dollars, per prior Tribal Business News reporting — through the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which entitles families to $75 a month toward their internet costs.
Once people have been signed up for the ACP, the remaining funds have been leveraged to add a further $150 to those monthly subsidies to continue cutting Alaskan users’ massive bills.
Notably, the group wouldn’t be building any new infrastructure but rather helping users through equipment and training. Tribal Business News’initial report noted that applications for infrastructure were in the works, but had not yet been awarded — this was with less than a quarter-million dollars remaining in the initial funding opportunity for the TBCP.
“Use and adoption is what we could do right away, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” AFN executive vice president and general counsel Nicole Borromeo told Tribal Business News. “It’s a short term resource to get the internet out to people we can help now.”
All told, the project serves 62 Alaskan Native communities, subsidizing internet service for an estimated 2,777 Alaskan Native households and providing broadband equipment to roughly 8,877 individuals, along with the 10 aforementioned “Circuit Riders.”