Proposed Bethel fiber project clears hurdle in federal grant process

BNC one step closer to bridging the digital divide; bringing digital equity to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta a top priority.

The Bethel Native Corporation (BNC) announced today (Aug. 25th, 2021) that it has received consent from the Orutsararmiut Native Council (ONC) to proceed with an application to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for a $43 million grant to deploy a fiber optic network from Dillingham to Bethel by the end of 2024.

If the grant application is approved, GCI will build and operate the fiber network that will provide urban-level residential internet service in Bethel and communities along the route and will ultimately boost broadband connectivity across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“We are grateful to ONC for its support of this once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said BNC President and CEO Ana Hoffman.  “Once complete, the fiber project will provide ONC tribal members, BNC shareholders, and all other Bethel residents with access to the same internet plans GCI provides to consumers in Anchorage. This project is a transformational step for connectivity in Bethel and, ultimately, the entire Y-K Delta.”

“GCI joins BNC in thanking ONC for its support for this vitally important project,” said GCI President and COO Greg Chapados. “The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of high speed broadband access for western Alaska. This project will eliminate the digital divide for consumers in Bethel and the other communities along the fiber route and lead to major improvements in communications services throughout the region.”

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.

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 consumers.

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.

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