Native organizations win $35M grant to bring broadband home

An engineer installs an antenna receiver in Lena Foss’ home on October 19, 2021 in Akiak, Alaska. Akiak used coronavirus relief funding to pay for its broadband project — the new Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grant is aimed at equipping homes and rural health facilities with the devices needed to take advantage of broadband. (Photo by Katie Basile/KYUK)

A group of Alaska Native tribes, communities and village corporations has won a $35 million infrastructure grant to provide broadband to their constituents.

Unlike traditional infrastructure projects involving steel or concrete, this federal grant is aimed at equipping homes and rural health facilities with the devices needed to take advantage of broadband.

A professional headshot of a woman wearing glasses
(Courtesy of Nicole Borromeo)

Nicole Borromeo is executive vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, which organized the consortium to apply for the grant. She said the first step is a needs assessment of the participating organizations, which include tribal housing authorities and regional non-profits.

“After that, we are going to start to supply their tribal citizens, Native shareholders, low-income housing families, what have you, with bundled computer packages,” she said. “And they’ll be able to choose from a traditional desktop or maybe a laptop or, finally, a tablet, which is probably going to be more popular for school-aged students.”

Borromeo said the grant will also fund traveling IT technicians and a training program so that the technicians can come from the communities they serve.

The grant is part of the first wave of infrastructure projects coming to Alaska from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law last year. It is the largest grant awarded by the new Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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