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Alaska Commerce Department partners with non-profit foundation to administer state’s Digital Equity Planning Grant Thumbnail Image

Alaska Commerce Department partners with non-profit foundation to administer state’s Digital Equity Planning Grant

The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband announced on July 20, 2022, that it has partnered with the Rasmuson Foundation to administer the Digital Equity Planning Grant over the next 10 months.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes $65 billion in public investment to improve broadband access and deployment throughout the country. This funding includes $2.6 billion to implement the Digital Equity Act Grants. These grants are designed to help states improve digital inclusion and equity within historically underserved communities and populations. 

Alaska expects to receive an initial $567,000 grant to prepare Alaska’s digital equity plan. The plan will identify existing barriers to broadband access, outline potential solutions to eliminating them, and will establish the foundation for supplemental federal funding to build Alaska’s broadband capacity and improve digital equity.

"Access to broadband for all Alaskans has been a priority of my administration," said Gov. postgres Dunleavy said in a statement. "Digital equity means unprecedented access for our residents to work, learn, and receive health care, even in the most remote areas of the state."

The Office of Broadband has partnered with the Rasmuson Foundation to assist in the development of the state’s digital equity plan. Operating as the state’s designated administering entity, it is expected that the foundation will manage a number of activities to include conducting stakeholder outreach, holding statewide listening sessions, and facilitating the data collection required to develop a comprehensive plan.

The Rasmuson Foundation’s “willingness to serve as the administering entity preserves the eligibility of Tribal, municipal, and other non-profit entities to receive funding through upcoming Digital Equity Capacity and Competitive grant programs,” said Julie Sande, commissioner of the state’s Department of Commerce.

The Rasmuson Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to promote a better life for Alaskans, has agreed to supplement these federally funded efforts with additional foundation staff and financial resources, allowing 100 percent of the state’s planning grant to go towards public outreach and stakeholder activities, according to Sande.

“Numerous Alaska communities face prohibitive broadband costs or lagging speeds which results in a meaningful or complete lack of access to tools broadly taken for granted elsewhere,” said Rasmuson Foundation CEO Diane Kaplan. “Impaired broadband access relates to so many core Rasmuson Foundation grantmaking areas like healthcare, economic development, arts, culture, and education.” 

Other significant partners in this broadband planning effort include the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), Tribal entities, the Alaska Municipal League, local governments and representative non-profit organizations across Alaska.

Alaska has historically been held back by its 600,000 square-mile size, sparse population, rugged terrain and weather. That has led it to use wireless technologies outside of urban areas for connectivity, including microwave and satellites. 

But the state's 2021 broadband report was bullish on the new infusion of federal money, including from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in November 2021. That report said that a "generational infusion of resources" made it "possible to build terrestrial middle and last-mile capacity to places never before considered feasible."

"Fiber-optic cables are considered by the task force to be the gold standard middle-mile solution," the report said, adding other technologies are still in the mix. "As such, it should be deployed wherever feasible."

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