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April 23, 2024
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First lady Jill Biden visits Alaska’s Bethel to highlight progress in Bridging Digital Divide

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In the remote Alaska Native village of Rampart, a lack of reliable internet service meant that reaching the outside world was a challenge. Whenever the internet went down, the only way to communicate was by waiting for the daily supply plane to arrive, carrying messages and occasional visitors to the tiny village.

According to the news report, Margaret Moses, the tribal administrator, explained the difficulty, saying, “We had no way of getting ahold of anybody out of Rampart other than going to the airport and telling the pilot.” The pilot would then relay messages, including news of medical emergencies, after flying to Fairbanks, 100 miles away.

This struggle is not unique to Rampart; it is a common issue in many Alaska Native villages, where spotty and expensive internet coverage is the norm, if it’s available at all. For these remote communities, often accessible only by boat or plane, internet service is a lifeline.

Source: AP News

However, efforts are now underway to address these inequities and bridge the digital divide across Alaska, thanks to funding provided by the 2021 infrastructure bill and other federal programs as part of the Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative. The bill allocates $65 billion to improve broadband access across the United States, with every federally recognized tribe, including the 229 tribes in Alaska, eligible to receive up to $500,000.

As per AP news agency, Highlighting the progress made under the program, First Lady Jill Biden visited the community of Bethel in southwest Alaska. Bethel, which is located about 400 miles west of Anchorage and only accessible by air, received $125 million last year for two broadband infrastructure projects. This marked the first visit by a first lady to Bethel.

During her visit, Biden addressed the crowd at the local high school, emphasizing the positive impact of high-speed internet on healthcare access, education, and job opportunities. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, an Alaska Democrat, and Alaska’s first lady, Rose Dunleavy, accompanied her.

Dunleavy expressed optimism about the broadband investments in the Bethel area, stating that they would create jobs and bring rural Alaska out of the digital divide. In addition to the previous funding, an additional $5 million in grants were awarded, including $500,000 to the Hoonah Indian Association of southeast Alaska to train individuals for jobs created by a growing tourism industry.

Source: AP News

The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program has attracted significant interest, with three-quarters of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. applying for over $5.8 billion in funding. However, the program is currently funded at just under $3 billion, primarily from the infrastructure bill. So far, approximately $1.8 billion has been awarded to 157 tribal entities to improve broadband access.

In Alaska alone, more than $386 million has been allocated to 21 projects. In the village of Akiak, a Yupik subsistence community located 30 miles north of Bethel, tribal officials provided free broadband to 100 homes during the COVID-19 pandemic using grant money.

The ongoing efforts to improve internet access in Alaska Native villages are crucial in narrowing the digital divide and providing essential connectivity to these remote communities. The funding provided through the infrastructure bill and other federal programs brings hope for a more connected future in Alaska and demonstrates a commitment to Internet for All.

Source: Google News

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