First Lady Jill Biden visits Alaska to promote Internet for All initiative

  • First Lady Jill Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Bethel, Alaska to highlight progress under the “Internet for All” initiative.
  • Internet connectivity tends to be lost in remote Alaskan towns, requiring upgrades to satellite companies, costing about $3,000 per month
  • The Biden-Harris administration’s “Internet for All” initiative provided $65 million in federal funding to improve broadband access in the United States. All federally recognized tribes, including Alaska’s 229 tribes, are eligible for $500,000.

For years, when the lousy internet service in the tiny Alaska Native village of Rampart went down, the only way to get to the outside world was to wait for a small plane to land with supplies every day and the occasional visitor. .

“There was no way to catch anyone from Rampart other than going to the airport and telling the pilot,” said Tribal Administrator Margaret Moses. After flying 160 miles to Fairbanks, the pilot relayed a message containing the news of a medical emergency.

The Koyucon Athabasca village of about 50 people eventually upgraded to a high-priced satellite company at $3,000 a month.

This is one of many Alaska Native villages, where unreliable and expensive internet connections are common, even when internet is available. And such services can be the only lifeline for remote communities, many of which are only accessible by ship or plane.

Efforts to address inequalities in the long-standing digital divide are now underway in the nation’s largest state by area, especially in Alaska Native villages, with funding part of the Biden administration’s “Internet for All” initiative. as provided by the 2021 Infrastructure Bill and other federal programs. .

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Overall, the bill provides $65 billion in funding to improve broadband access in the United States. All federally recognized tribes, including her 229 tribes in Alaska, can receive up to $500,000.

Jill Biden visited the Bethel community in southwestern Alaska on a stopover in Japan late Wednesday, under the program, including last year’s $125 million award for two broadband infrastructure projects in the region. emphasized the progress of It was the first time a first lady visited Bethel, which is only accessible by air and is located about 600 miles west of Anchorage.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that Biden told a crowd at a local high school, “High-speed internet makes it easier to access critical health care, new educational tools and remote employment opportunities. will be,’ he said.

“It will change lives. It will save lives,” said Biden, who was accompanied by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, US Rep.

First Lady Jill Biden addresses a crowd at Bethel Area High School May 17, 2023. Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland traveled to Bethel to highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s investment in expanding broadband internet access to Native American communities, including in Alaska. (Lauren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News, via AP)

Dunleavy said broadband investments in the Bethel area would help create jobs. “Rural Alaska has always been on the wrong side of the information divide to this day,” she told the audience.

An additional $5 million in grants was awarded on Wednesday, including $500,000 to the Huna Indian Association in Southeast Alaska to help train people for the jobs created by the tourism boom. ing.

Nine other $500,000 grants were awarded to three tribes in California to help increase the number of tribal households in the Soboba Band of the Luiseno Indians to 314. Provides equipment and training to the Seminoles of Florida. Potawatomi, Michigan: Upgraded high-speed internet service to 17 homes of Match-E-B-Nash See-Wish Band of Indians (Gun Lake).

Other grants went to tribes in Minnesota, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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“What has been challenging about running this program is that when you look at the country of India as a whole, the need is so huge and most of these communities lack critical infrastructure that was previously inaccessible. It’s a matter of course,” he said. Adam Geisler, Director of the Government’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration;

When the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program launched, three-quarters of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States applied for more than $5.8 billion in funding. However, the program is currently funded at just under $3 billion, most of it from the Infrastructure Bill. So far, nearly $1.8 billion has been donated to 157 tribal groups to improve broadband access.

In Alaska, 21 projects have received more than $386 million.

In the Yupik subsistence community of Akiak, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Bethel, tribal authorities provided free broadband to 100 families in the village during the COVID-19 pandemic until subsidies ran out.

The Akiak Native Community tribe wanted to use that $500,000 to at least subsidize its services. However, the grant has been allocated to the company’s Alaska Native Regional Corporation, which will eventually get internet providers to deploy fiber broadband to villages in the Yukon Territory and the Kuskokwim Delta.

So subsistence residents of Akiak, where a quarter of all households live below the poverty line, have to pay $90 a month for satellite service or wait for fiber.


Kevin Hammer is General Manager of the Yukon Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium. The Yukon Delta Tribal Broadband Consortium is a non-profit tribal organization made up of 18 tribal governments in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region, including Akiak. He believes government funding needs to be flexible to provide affordable broadband soon while tribal communities wait for fiber broadband, which can take years.

Tribal communities often have expensive and terrible Internet service unless they can afford their own satellite service, such as spending $600 on equipment. Without satellite service, video classes for kids, telemedicine with medical professionals, and working from home wouldn’t exist.

“You are excluded from all the benefits of the digital economy,” Hammer said.

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