Technological progress over history can be described as intermittent. When we think of how far humans have come over the last several thousand years, a common mistake is to imagine it like a timeline, with each innovation moving forward in a somewhat evenly spaced number of years.
In reality, societies stagnated for seemingly infinite periods and were suddenly improved exponentially through a few groundbreaking ideas. We saw this for much of the Middle Ages. The aptly named era made less innovation-based headway in a few centuries than any decade during the Renaissance era that followed. Times of crisis often gave way to radical, exciting ideas that brought us all along for the ride.
A similar technological shift happened with the advent of the internet. One can point to it as the defining invention of both millennials and Gen-X-ers, which shaped the way they live like no other piece of technology that has come since. It affects how we work, entertain ourselves, plan for the future, and has brought the world to the point of instantaneous communication from thousands of miles apart.
If not a human right by definition, it has become synonymous with what it means to be human in the 21st century. With a recent bipartisan nonpartisan spending bill, the federal government is providing billions for expanding the nation’s broadband infrastructure throughout our most remote corners. This upgrade includes significant funding for Alaska, also known as “The Last Frontier”.
In late July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would invest $116 million in Alaska to expand its broadband network to underserved areas and businesses. The funding comes as a direct result of the passage of last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which sought to bring high-speed internet access into a more modernized definition of what infrastructure truly means to the American public.
“In nearly every rural and remote community I visit, broadband and connectivity are not just topic of conversations, but top priorities for residents and businesses alike,” said one of the principal architects of the IIJA, Alaska Sen. Susan Murkowski. “I’ve met countless Alaskans who’ve shared the impact that their lack of connectivity has on their lives — including telehealth, education, the success of small businesses, and staying in touch with the people they care about.”
Washington D.C. echoed that message. “Alaskans deserve affordable, reliable high-speed internet, not only for students of all ages to learn and thrive but also for entrepreneurs and access to new job markets,” said Julia Hnilicka, USDA Rural Development State director. “From health care to home-care, the Biden-Harris Administration’s unprecedented push for equity is providing rural Alaska with enormous opportunities.”
Most of the $116 million has been allocated to several major projects throughout the state.
The largest piece of the pie goes to Bristol Bay Telephone Cooperative, which will use roughly $35 million to create a fiber network to serve 22 area businesses near Bristol Bay.
Several similar fiber, or “fiber-to-the-premises,” projects are receiving comparable funding, including a $29 million project on Prince of Wales Island, a $31 million project near the town of Bethel, and a $21 million venture in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area. Once completed, these networks will collectively serve more than 5,000 people and more than 130 businesses. The USDA expects additional funding to materialize in the coming months.