By Michael Burke, CEO of MTA
As the leader of a forward-looking technology and telecommunications company, one of our core missions is to connect as many people as possible – just as it should be for broadband providers anywhere, but especially in rural areas.
I like to look at my role as that of a landscape architect: doing everything I can to plant the seeds of broadband infrastructure that will support amazing growth and progress in Alaska for decades into the future.
For MTA, working to close the digital divide is not just a new trend or goal for this year – we’ve been focused on it for decades. We were pleased to receive a $1.9 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of its ReConnect Program, which focuses on building broadband infrastructure in rural America. Making broadband more accessible throughout Alaska is also one of the reasons we undertook the massive AlCan ONE fiber network project in 2020 (connecting Alaska to the lower 48 over the State’s first all terrestrial fiber broadband network) and continue our Alaska Plan build-out to provide our service areas with better connectivity.
The recent passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has enhanced our jobs as landscape architects. I expect this law to change the landscape of broadband in our great state for generations to come.
Expanding reliable broadband access in rural areas is crucial for students trying to get an education, entrepreneurs trying to keep their small businesses running, and patients in need of telehealth services. This became clearer than ever during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when students in more remote areas found themselves stranded without high-speed internet necessary for virtual education.
While we don’t yet know how this new law will specifically affect each MTA member, it will be a huge boost for Alaska as a state – and will be especially tangible and consequential for Alaskans in remote, underserved areas.
Crucially, this law prioritizes funding to community-built networks and co-ops like ours, rather than offering incentives to large, private companies – giving back to communities and their businesses along with the individuals using broadband in them. The law also includes various opportunities for rural and tribal communities, including Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure grants and funding for tribes through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program.
Given how technologically skilled and forward-thinking Alaska’s workforce has become in recent years, the sky is truly the limit, and we will do everything we can to harness those skills and innovation with the new resources arriving in Alaska with the help of this law.
Despite these advancements in the workforce, our digital divide remains too vast in some areas, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is an important first step. Our team will continue briefing and working with elected officials, Tribal leaders and business leaders to keep planting new seeds however and wherever we can to ensure Alaska’s continued growth.
With support from our members and leaders from throughout the state, we are optimistic that a lack of broadband in underserved areas will be a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.