JUNEAU – Legislation that will help bring affordable, high-speed internet to homes across Alaska just passed a major legislative hurdle. House Bill 363, introduced by Representative Bryce Edgmon, passed the Senate 16-2. The bill will make Alaska eligible for the unprecedented level of federal funds available for broadband investment, while establishing a fund to create parity in internet costs between rural and urban communities.
Alaskans throughout the state suffer from low-quality, prohibitively expensive broadband service, if they’re lucky to have service at all. Following the passage of the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act (IIJA), over two billion dollars was made available to states for broadband infrastructure investment, but access to these federal funds is contingent states have a broadband office.
In anticipation, Governor Dunleavy established a Taskforce on Broadband to develop policy objectives and steps necessary to best position Alaska. Modeled directly from the taskforce’s recommendations and strict federal guidelines, HB 363 establishes the Office of Broadband, which will prioritize expanding high-quality, affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved communities, as well as anchor institutions. In response to the enormous premiums rural Alaskans pay for broadband, HB 363 creates the Broadband Parity Adjustment Fund, designed to help temporarily bridge the cost between rural and urban broadband prices. Finally, the bill would form the Statewide Broadband Advisory Board, comprised of experts who would help the Office of Broadband engage stakeholders.
“This bill opens the door to bring in billions of dollars for everyone in Alaska to receive high-speed internet, and that’s not an overstatement.”” said Representative Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham).
“Internet access has become integral to education and employment in the 21st century,” said Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel). “With rural Alaskans already facing high-costs of living, I’m hopeful that this legislation will help bring modestly-priced internet into every Alaskan household.”
“The internet is a vital tool for bringing Alaskans together, both professionally and personally,” said Senator Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage). “Our state is responsible to provide infrastructure for every Alaskan to be able to connect with each other, whether it is highways, airports, or internet access.”
HB 363 will now come back to the House of Representatives for a concurrence vote.