Bethel Native Corporation and GCI have partnered on a project to deliver high-speed internet to Bethel, Alaska, and 12 other communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. Once complete, the AIRRAQ Network will bring digital equity to 11,800 Alaskans living in the traditional home of the Yup’ik people.
The AIRRAQ (pronounced EYE-huck) Network’s name is a traditional Yupik game, similar to cat’s cradle, that translates to “string that tells the story.” Much like an airraq, the fiber network will allow the people of the Y-K Delta to tell stories, teach lessons, and share their history and culture.
The project is funded by three federal grants and will bring fast, affordable, unlimited internet plans to consumers in the Y-K Delta region.
The first phase of the project is funded by a $42 million grant awarded to Bethel Native Corporation from the NTIA Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. This phase includes a 405-mile subsea and terrestrial fiber backbone network. Starting in Dillingham, the fiber will follow a submarine route to the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, and then transition to an overland route to Bethel. Bethel is slated to come online first and Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak and Oscarville will follow soon after.
The second phase of the project is funded by a $31 million USDA RUS ReConnect grant awarded to GCI. This phase of the project will extend the project to five additional communities: Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak and Tuntutuliak. GCI will connect each community to the project’s fiber-optic backbone and deploy local fiber-to-the-premises networks, bringing affordable 2,500 Mbps consumer internet plans with unlimited data to even more Alaskans.
Phase three is funded by a $35 million USDA RUS ReConnect grant awarded to GCI. This phase will bring 2.5 gig residential internet speeds to Toksook Bay, Emmonak and Tununak. GCI will extend the AIRRAQ Network’s fiber-optic backbone more than 350 miles north along the coast of Western Alaska to reach the three communities.
The project will connect in Dillingham to a second NTIA-funded fiber project being constructed by Nushagak Electric & Telephone Cooperative (NETC) between Dillingham and Levelock. In Levelock, the NETC fiber will connect with GCI’s existing fiber to Anchorage, which itself was constructed with a combination of public and private investment. By working closely with local providers and leveraging existing and funded fiber infrastructure, GCI is making cost-effective use of federal infrastructure programs to close the digital divide for more communities and help bring digital equity to rural Alaska.