Tidal Network internet tower delivery delayed

A pair of mobile towers on wheels that were anticipated to arrive this month in Wrangell for a pilot broadband network have been delayed until around September.

Chris Cropley, network architect at Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said delivery is 16 to 18 weeks out. One of the components for the towers got “kicked out” of the global supply chain, Cropley said May 4.

The delayed order which Cropley placed in early February for the two mobile cell towers on wheels come from Pierson Wireless in Omaha, Nebraska. Those two towers combined with installation will cost $1.5 million.

Also delayed in the shipment are Wi-Fi routers that will go inside homes, and a 4G receiver that will attach to the outside of the building to pick up the signal.

Cropley said the postponed delivery doesn’t surprise him, amid the global shortages. The towers consist of “generators, and batteries, it’s all a bunch of different parts.”

The tribe was granted a broadband license from the FCC in December but has until September 2024 to “defend it” — which means half of the coverage area should have the option to opt in. Deploying the foundation for the network — cell towers, receivers and routers — will be crucial to maintaining the license.

While the Wrangell pilot project and network is fully funded through federal pandemic aid legislation, Cropley said Central Council did not receive a federal grant of $50 million it had applied for, which it wanted to cover the full build-out across more of Southeast, providing 32 towers in 22 different communities.

The federal Tribal Broadband Connectivity Network on May 4 announced the funding of four Alaska grants totaling $41.5 million. Central Council was not among them.

Cropley said he is hopeful for more funding rounds to be announced, possibly this summer, from the $980 million federal program under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which received $2 billion more from the federal infrastructure law.

The tribe will initially set up the network in Wrangell, for a service area that eventually could stretch from Yakutat to Ketchikan, if it can obtain more funding. Central Council will set up temporary cell towers in Wrangell and “get internet served off of both those towers as far down the road system as we can south of Shoemaker (Bay).”

Cropley said he is still targeting fall to start setting up the network, but is not rushing to fill a position to guide residents through installations until the equipment arrives.


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