It’s a bit boggling to imagine so much broadband technology could be woven into the far reaches of Alaska’s vast wilderness, but on August 25th it became a reality. Representatives of the organizations and people of Southwest Alaska who are benefitting from this important project, including a variety of local, state and federal officials, met in Dillingham to mark progress on the TERRA-SW project.
When complete, TERRA-SW will make broadband available to more than 9,000 rural Alaskan households and nearly 750 businesses in the covered communities. The project will also serve numerous public, non-profit, private community institutions and entities such as regional healthcare providers, school districts and other regional and Alaska Native organizations. TERRA-SW will provide middle-mile terrestrial broadband service to 65 remote, rural communities in Bristol Bay and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Y-K Delta), including Bethel, Dillingham and King Salmon.
The project is spearheaded by GCI. GCI is an Alaska-based company providing voice, video and data communication services to residential, commercial and government customers. The company employs more than 1,600 Alaskans. Coming to life, the project seems like a page out of science fiction because of the incredible logistics involved. In a superb feat of expert planning and execution this past July, cable was laid at the bottom of Cook Inlet between Homer and Williamsport and in both Kachemak Bay and Iliamna Bay. Heavy-lift helicopters also delivered communications and power modules to several remote, mountaintop microwave-repeater sites for construction. In addition, construction of the pole-hung fiber optic segment in the mountain pass between Williamsport and Pile Bay is nearing completion and as is construction on a village microwave tower.
USDA-Rural Development Alaska State Director Jim Nordlund said, “TERRA-SW is funded with an $88 million loan/grant combination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiatives Program established pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of this year which has the potential to improve the local communications infrastructure and contribute to creating jobs and building the local economy in these communities.”
Remarks on the significance of the project were heard from U.S. Senator Mark Begich, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski; Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell; and U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Utilities Service Administrator Jonathon Adelstein; as well as by officials representing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development; the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation; the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation; the Southwest Regional School District and other stakeholders.
After the ceremonies, some attendees also participated in site visits to New Stuyahok and Manokotak to view progress on construction of water/utility upgrades, tour village clinics and schools.