USDA Grant Expands AIRRAQ Fiber to Rural Alaska Communities

The $35 million grant award will deliver connectivity to Tununak, Toksook Bay, and Emmonak.

ANCHORAGE, AK – GCI announced that it has been awarded a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development ReConnect Program to bring fiber-optic connectivity to Toksook Bay, Emmonak, and Tununak. Connectivity will be delivered to the three communities through an expansion of the AIRRAQ Network, a joint GCI-Bethel Native Corporation (BNC) project to deliver high-speed broadband service to communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

The AIRRAQ Network (pronounced EYE-huck) was named after a traditional Yup'ik game similar to cat's cradle and translates to "string that tells the story." The name was chosen by GCI's project partner, BNC, because the fiber will enable Y-K Delta residents to share their stories and culture with the world.

"GCI is excited for the opportunity to close the digital divide in even more Western Alaska communities," said GCI President and Chief Operating Officer Greg Chapados. "Fiber is the high-capacity, low-latency, future-proof technology that the region needs. Once connected, residents of Toksook Bay, Emmonak, Tununak, and the ten other AIRRAQ Network communities, including Bethel, will have access to the same internet speeds, plans, and pricing as our customers in Anchorage and other urban communities."

"We're going to see a dramatic improvement to the reliability and speed, unlimited data options, and significantly more affordable plans in the region. Faster speeds will better accommodate growing needs in the region including online learning and telehealth," said Bethel Native Corporation President and CEO Ana Hoffman. "We value the partnership between BNC and GCI and our collective commitment to deliver this service together."

Phase three of the AIRRAQ Network will bring ultra-high-speed connectivity to 1,800 more Alaskans and will be a foundation for future fiber projects in the region.

"This project will be transformative to residents of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta," said Senior Vice President of GCI Corporate Development Billy Wailand. "We're appreciative of the support from the USDA ReConnect Program and their recognition of the importance of this project, which enables us to leverage the substantial investment GCI has already made in the Y-K Delta with our own capital and other federal grants to improve service throughout even more of the region. It will also provide a backbone to expand fiber service to even more communities in this important region."

"USDA Rural Development is working alongside Tribes, municipalities, and telecommunication companies like GCI to connect remote and rural communities to high-speed internet," said USDA Rural Development's State Director for Alaska Julia Hnilicka. "I am deeply proud of the partnerships created by the ReConnect Program's support for the buildout of the AIRRAQ Network. Alaskans deserve affordable, reliable, high-speed internet, not only for students of all ages to learn and thrive but also for entrepreneurs and access to new job markets. From healthcare to homecare, the unprecedented push for equity of the Biden-Harris Administration is providing rural Alaska with enormous opportunities."

The AIRRAQ Network is a 405-mile fiber-optic network that will deliver affordable 2.5 gig residential internet speeds and unlimited data plans to more than 11,800 people. Phases I, II, and III will connect 13 Western Alaska communities, including Bethel, Platinum, Eek, Napaskiak, Oscarville, Atmautluak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Quinhagak, Tuntutuliak, Tununak, Toksook Bay, and Emmonak. The overall project is supported by more than $100 million in broadband grants awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP) and the USDA Rural Development ReConnect Program, and by GCI’s private investment.



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