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Kenai task force works to bring federal money to peninsula for better broadband access

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Wesley Early
/
Alaska Public Media
Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs a bill establishing an Alaska Office of Broadband to coordinate federal funds received by the state.

Broadband in Alaska has been getting a lot of attention lately. The state faces unique challenges when it comes to internet connectivity because of its large area and small population.

A large pot of money may be heading Alaska’s way soon, thanks to a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill that passed back in November.

More than $60 billion will go toward expanding access to high-speed broadband across the country. And officials say Alaska, as one of the least-connected states in the county, could have a lot to gain, to the tune of several billion dollars.

A task force on the Kenai Peninsula is working to identify local broadband needs so that funding gets distributed appropriately across the peninsula’s many communities.

Tim Dillon is executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and the head of the 13-person taskforce. He said he heard complaints about broadband while working on the state's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS.

“The top thing that people talked about as we redid our CEDS was broadband access. And whether it was for education, for additional certifications, for workforce, broadband was a huge issue," Dillon said.

The task force brings together representatives of businesses, nonprofits, tribes and schools to represent the region and assess the connectivity needs of the peninsula.

Right now, it’s focused on getting the word out about a test peninsula residents can conduct in their own homes to assess their connectivity speeds. Those tests get automatically mapped and allow the feds to understand exactly where they need to send money for broadband improvements. Dillon said there are dozens of small Alaska communities that, today, aren’t mapped at all.

That map needs to be completed by Sept. 1. Dillon said peninsula residents should take the test as soon as possible so that the funding is appropriately distributed and access can improve on the peninsula.

“As we’re in 2022, quality of life includes connectivity. Whether it be for someone trying to do their job, whether it’s for a youngster and school, or even look at it from the other direction, when you’re trying to recruit and retain teachers," he said.

On the Kenai Peninsula, and across Alaska, the quality of broadband access varies based on location. In smaller, more rural communities, Dillon said the internet speeds just don’t suffice — and sometimes even make remote work impossible.

He said that he’s hopeful that the federal funding will help. But he said the distribution of that funding depends on accurate mapping of speeds around the state.

“My goal is, hopefully, we’re going to get our fair share," he said. "But we have to do our part to make sure we get our fair share.”

On Tuesday, a group of federal officials visited Anchorage for a summit about the state's unique challenges with broadband.

At the summit, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a bill establishing an Office of Broadband, which will coordinate the federal funding that comes in from the infrastructure bill. Dillon said he was pleased to see federal officials and state lawmakers acknowledge Alaska’s broadband needs at the summit.

You can click here to take the speed test, or call Tim Dillon at (907) 283-3335 or (907) 242-9709 with any questions.

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Riley Board is a Report For America corps member covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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