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Murkowski, Sullivan Raise Broadband Map Concerns in Alaska

Alaska’s U.S. senators sounded the alarm over federal maps that will be used for determining funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) broadband equity, access and deployment (BEAD) program. The Republicans’ remarks Tuesday at a livestreamed Alaska Broadband Summit followed state officials raising concerns about holes in the FCC’s broadband serviceable location fabric to be used in upcoming maps (see 2208080056). State, local, tribal and federal officials stressed the need for engagement and collaboration to ensure funding goes where it’s needed.

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NTIA will use an additional $1 billion from the infrastructure law to approve more applications for the tribal broadband connectivity program's current round closing Sept. 1, NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said in a news briefing. The program will now be $1.98 billion; NTIA had received 300 applications seeking more than $5 billion total. Also, NTIA reached an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to streamline permitting related to environmental, historic preservation and cultural resource issues for building high-speed internet networks on tribal lands, he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski urged the FCC and NTIA "to get this BEAD program right for Alaska … ahead of time, before allocations go out.” Funding is “dependent on the maps,” but currently “dozens of rural villages” are “completely missed in this initial fabric,” she said. "Fabric accuracy is absolutely key and essential." Mapping is a challenge, “and we get that, but you’ve got to work with us.”

Alaska is “proving to be a very difficult place to map,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan. The scenario that the state “can’t accept from the feds” is “where they haven’t mapped us yet, and then they’re giving out the money, and the money runs out when they finally map us.” Sullivan said he had a “very good” talk with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel about the issue two days earlier. It’s also important to avoid overbuilding and waste, fraud and abuse, said the senator.

Accurate federal maps are key to ensuring Alaska gets the right amount of funding, said FCC Commissioners Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr at the news briefing. “Alaskan mapping is unique,” said Simington, saying he will try to learn what he can while he's in the state to ensure that the federal map is done properly. The Republican commissioners applauded the permitting agreement announced by Davidson.

Alaska must prepare to “take advantage of this incredible historic opportunity … to close the huge deficit that we have in our state in terms of broadband and interconnectivity and to coordinate the efforts across all shareholders to truly connect every community, every town [and] every village,” said Sullivan. “This is 21st Century infrastructure … and we don't have hardly any of it relative to the rest of the country.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) signed an Alaska bill at the summit to set up a state broadband office, advisory board and technical working group. HB-363 seeks technology neutrality as the state expands access, he said. Dunleavy noted Alaska is “a very different place” with unique geographic and climate challenges. “If you can do this well in the state of Alaska, you can do this well anywhere.”

Davidson agreed it’s important to get things right, with billions of dollars going out. “It’s going to take a lot of work,” he told the summit earlier in the day. The Commerce Department official, traveling across Alaska this week, announced $50 million in tribal broadband connectivity program grants Monday to Doyon, the Alaska Native corporation for interior Alaska, and the Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission (see 2208080063). Davidson said he saw firsthand during his visit to Alaska’s Tanana Village how potential connectivity is “bringing some hope” to communities.

It’s a squeaky wheel that gets the grease,” and Alaska is “really engaged,” said Simington on a panel. Noting the state’s different challenges, the Republican urged the state to continue to proactively reach out.