State wants to learn about community needs before spending federal internet money

In today’s interconnected world, internet access allows people to connect with loved ones, stay updated on current events, access essential government services and more. But in Alaska, not all communities have access to reliable, affordable internet.

Late last month, Alaska Municipal League representative Alicia Hughes-Skandijs met with seven representatives from the library, borough, Wrangell Cooperative Association and others to discuss challenges with the Wrangell community’s internet access.

The meeting was an early step in the five-year Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD was launched as part of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bipartisan effort to improve national infrastructure that was signed into law in November of last year. The law provides $42.5 billion for broadband nationally, with roughly $100 million allotted to each state.

In partnership with the Alaska Office of Broadband, the Alaska Municipal League and other organizations are visiting small communities throughout the state to learn more about their internet needs. The state will use the data collected through these visits as a guide when it allocates its BEAD funding.

“In order to participate fully in our modern world, people need access to these services and it needs to be affordable,” said Hughes-Skandijs. To ensure broad community representation, 48 similar public meetings will take place across the state to identify areas with the most need. The Alaska Municipal League and other digital equity partners are particularly interested in the perspectives of rural residents, Alaska Natives and elders. Wrangell was Hughes-Skandijs’ first stop.

Sarah Scambler of the Irene Ingle Public Library identified low technological literacy as a major roadblock between community members and internet access. Port Director Steve Miller and Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore agreed. Miller often assists fisherman who have difficulties filling out online forms, and Rushmore has noticed that some community members struggle to pay bills online.

High prices and lack of access out the road were also recurring themes that many participants touched on at the Wrangell meeting.


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