Bethel Native Corporation to spearhead federal funding effort to bring urban-level internet service to Bethel residents
BETHEL, Alaska — The Bethel Native Corporation (BNC) announced today that it would apply — in partnership with GCI, Alaska's largest telecommunications provider — to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for a $43 million grant to deploy a fiber optic network from Dillingham to Bethel.
"Everyone agrees that fiber is the best infrastructure for the most reliable and fastest broadband service. Fiber has already been deployed to Kotzebue and Nome, and projects are underway to deploy fiber to Dillingham and Unalaska. As the largest community in western Alaska and the regional hub for the Y-K Delta, Bethel needs fiber service urgently," said BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman. "The COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of remote learning, remote working and accessing remote healthcare reinforced the need to close the digital divide throughout western Alaska. This infrastructure is needed to achieve the quality of life residents here deserve. BNC sees the NTIA grant program as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring urban-level internet service to Bethel and improve internet connectivity for communities across the Delta."
Plans for the proposed project, announced last month by Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), the Tribal health consortium for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and GCI, would bring urban-level 1 gig internet services to Bethel and other communities along the fiber route in 2024.
The BNC-GCI application will be submitted for consideration by NTIA's Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), which will distribute $1 billion for tribal broadband initiatives, including infrastructure projects, across the nation. TBCP applications are due on September 1, 2021, and award announcements are expected before the end of the year.
"GCI is excited about the opportunity to work with BNC to close the digital divide in Bethel and other communities on the fiber route," said GCI President and COO Greg Chapados. "We believe that the BNC-GCI application will be one of the strongest received by NTIA. The Bethel fiber project will transform communications services in Bethel and communities along the fiber route, leverage the $150 million investment GCI has already made in the Y-K Delta with our own capital and federal grants, and support GCI's multi-year plan to improve wired and wireless internet service throughout the region."
"In Bethel and the fiber route communities, GCI will offer the same residential internet plans that we offer in Anchorage," Chapados continued. "Consumers will have the opportunity to purchase plans with unlimited data that are up to 100 times faster than plans currently available. We believe that the Bethel fiber project will be a game-changer for consumers and for the Y-K Delta's economy. Fiber is the high capacity, low latency, future-proof technology that the region needs."
The proposed Bethel fiber project will follow a combined submarine route from Dillingham, where Nushagak Telephone will soon launch a long-haul fiber project, to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River where it is expected to follow a terrestrial route to Bethel. GCI also will upgrade its local access networks in Bethel and the fiber route communities to offer lightning-fast 1 gig internet speeds to residents.
The completed project will support GCI plans to enhance its networks throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including expansion of long-haul microwave capacity and wired and wireless local access network upgrades.
Bethel Native Corporation is respected as a business leader with offices in Bethel, Anchorage and the lower 48. Bethel's companies engage in many diverse lines of business including government contracting, construction, logistical support, environmental remediation and commercial real estate. Learn more about BNC at https://bethelnativecorp.org.
Headquartered in Alaska, GCI provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer, business, government, and carrier customers throughout Alaska, serving more than 200 communities. The company has invested more than $3 billion in its Alaska network and facilities over the past 40 years and recently launched true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage, now the nation's northernmost 5G service area. Learn more about GCI at www.gci.com. GCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Broadband Corporation (Nasdaq: LBRDA, LBRDK, LBRDP). Learn more about Liberty Broadband at http://www.libertybroadband.com.