A task force of legislators, local public officials and broadband experts will spend the next five months assessing the gaps in Alaska’s current broadband network, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday.
The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband — Alaska’s third such commission in recent years, including similar task forces in 2014 and 2019 — was ordered to meet once a month until October to study technologies, infrastructure and policies the state should implement to expand broadband access. This iteration of the task force will include commissioners in the state’s education and commerce agencies, representatives from the telecommunications industry, the Alaska Municipal league and several mayors, as well as representatives of the state’s rural school districts and native populations. A report of recommendations will be due Oct. 1, per Dunleavy’s order.
Alaska currently ranks as the least connected state in the country, according to BroadbandNow, a website that ranks internet service providers, but the amount of open space and geographical barriers have made emerging technologies like satellite internet an enticing potential solution. Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX filed an application last month with the Federal Communications Commission to build antennas that would transmit broadband internet to rural portions of the southeastern region of the state.
Alaska lawmakers have also signaled their support for the governor’s broadband expansion efforts. A joint resolution slated for discussion next week urges Dunleavy to “create a temporary centralized, technology-neutral broadband and Internet access working group to provide all Alaskans an equal seat at the table,” similar to the task force announced Thursday, and to ensure that “no unnecessary or burdensome fees, such as increased permit or right-of-way fees, consistent with state law, become barriers or roadblocks to broadband deployment.”
And thanks to upcoming federal pandemic relief, Alaska may soon have the funding to carry out any recommendations suggested by the new task force. President Joe Biden has also announced a plan to invest $100 billion in broadband, and Dunleavy said he wants to be ready when any new money arrives.