Adam Kiffmeyer and Billy Adamson scale a communications tower on Thursday, Jan. 7 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Adam Kiffmeyer and Billy Adamson scale a communications tower on Thursday, Jan. 7 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Task force to look at statewide broadband access

The task force will consist of 11 voting members and two ex officio members.

Efforts to expand broadband access across Alaska will now be spearheaded by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office announced Thursday.

The task force will consist of 11 voting members and two ex officio members. The 11 voting members will include commissioners from the Department of Education and Early Development and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, as well as representatives from Native and rural organizations, among others.

The two ex officio members will be chosen from the Alaska House of Representatives and the Alaska Senate and will be chosen by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.

In establishing the task force, Dunleavy said the COVID-19 pandemic “shed light” on the need for reliable and high-speed internet access for people in Alaska, according to the administrative order.

“Closing Alaska’s digital divide is now more important than ever to meet an exponentially growing demand for bandwidth to support basic government and domestic functions, i.e., commerce, innovation, economic development, addressing quality of life issues for Alaskans,” the order says.

The task force will meet at least once a month until the task force sunsets on Nov. 30, 2022. Task force members will not receive any compensation for their work and will be expected to provide a comprehensive report on broadband in Alaska to Dunleavy by Oct. 1, 2021.

Among other things, that report should identify needs and gaps in Alaska’s current network, identify communities most in need of upgraded infrastructure, provide recommendations to fill those gaps, evaluate current broadband technologies and provide program recommendations for the equitable use of state money to develop infrastructure.

Access to broadband has been a major concern in communities across the country throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as people were increasingly made to work from home.

Broadband expansion has been underway for months on the peninsula. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly dedicated a chunk of their federal CARES Act money to improving access to expand rural internet access on the peninsula. In all, six towers were built in Nikiski, Tyonek, Bear Creek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik and Cohoe.

The assembly also recently approved a communications tower for Summit Lake.

More information on the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband can be found on Dunleavy’s website at gov.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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