President Joe Biden’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) is spending tens of millions in tax dollars to bring fiber optic internet to rural southeast Alaska.
As part of USDA’s “Reconnect Program,” it awarded a roughly $33 million grant to the Alaska Telephone Company (ATC), the agency announced last Thursday. Fiber will be delivered to 92 households and a total of 211 people and five businesses in two Alaska native villages called Skagway and Chilkat, according to a federal grant award listing.
ATC’s fiber plan will cost around $204,000 per passing of each residence and business, according to an analysis by Fierce Telecom, a tech publication. ATC also said in a Sept. 22 statement it will invest roughly $11 million into the fiber project.
“The Klukwan-Skagway Fiber project will spur economic growth and significantly enhance quality of life in very remote, hard-to-serve locations, empowering rural Alaskans with options for remote work, distance learning, telemedicine, and more,” Mike Garrett, CEO of Alaska Power & Telephone Company, which oversees ATC, said in the statement.
Fiber is a type of broadband connection that involves plastic or glass cords and is used for cable television and telephone signals as well as internet. It is roughly 20 times faster than standard cable internet and 80 times faster than digital subscriber line (DSL), another internet technology, according to HP.
USDA’s reconnect program allocates up to $1.1 billion in grants and loans to areas in rural America that lack “sufficient access” to broadband internet, a type of internet through service providers. The program was authorized under Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed in November 2021.