Alaska’s Task Force on Broadband calls for the creation of an Office of Broadband Deployment
The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband released its final report last week, highlighting a range of recommendations aimed at closing Alaska’s digital divide.
The 101-page report includes a series of short-term actions and longer-term goals that are meant to serve as a roadmap for policymakers in the state. The task force’s goals and recommendations focus on improving the quality of end-user experience–which includes measures of speed and reliability–as well as improving infrastructure, addressing affordability, and supporting a local workforce to maintain services.
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Ensuring adequate broadband in Alaska is particularly challenging due to its vast geography and small population. Communities are separated by distance and variable terrain, which can create economic challenges for companies that might bring services and infrastructure to the state. The report states:
“Of all U.S. states, Alaska is, by almost any measure, the most challenging place to ensure the ubiquitous delivery of high-quality broadband services. This is true both in the assessment of broadband needs and the closure of coverage gaps once those needs are identified.”
According to the report, complete data on the availability of broadband infrastructure and services is not available for Alaska, and information from the Federal Communications Commission is “flawed” and “unreliable.”
The task force did, however, identify close to 250 census-designated places (CDPs) in the state that it considers “unserved” due to low broadband speeds.
Among several recommendations, the task force calls for the streamlining of the state permitting process, the establishment of a federal grant-matching fund, the creation of a Broadband Parity Adjustment, and prioritization of the unserved and underserved.
The task force also recommends that the state create three entities to continue Alaska’s work expanding broadband access and improving digital equity. The report states that Alaska is one of just 16 states that doesn’t have a dedicated state agency focused on expanding access to broadband services.
Specifically, the task force calls for the creation of an Alaska Office of Broadband Deployment, which would provide leadership and be responsible for maintaining detailed state broadband maps, administering a state broadband grant program, coordinating federal grant applications, and developing a statewide broadband project plan.
The task force also calls for the creation of a State Broadband Advisory Board to provide guidance to the Office of Broadband Deployment, and the establishment of Regional Broadband Planning Committees to ensure engagement with Native leaders, local governments, and the general public.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the urgent need for reliable, high-speed connectivity for all Alaskans,” reads the report. “Closing Alaska’s digital divide is now more important than ever to meet an exponentially growing demand for bandwidth to support basic government and domestic functions including commerce, healthcare, education, economic development, innovation, and addressing quality of life issues for Alaskans.”