USDA grant award expands AIRRAQ broadband fiber project to three more rural Alaska communities

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GCI receives $35 million grant to bring fiber-optic connectivity to rural Alaska communities
  • Residents of Toksook Bay, Emmonak, Tununak, and other communities will have access to high-speed internet speeds, unlimited data options, and more affordable plans
  • Phase three of the project will connect 1,800 more Alaskans and serve as a foundation for future fiber projects
  • None.

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

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug. 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- GCI announced today that it has been awarded a $35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development's 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.

GCI has been awarded a $35 million grant from the USDA to bring connectivity to three more rural Alaska communities.

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 10 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's ReConnect program, and by private investment by GCI.

About GCI
Headquartered in Alaska, GCI provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer, business, government, and carrier customers throughout Alaska, serving more than 200 communities. The company has invested more than $4 billion in its Alaska network and facilities over the past 40 years and recently launched true standards-based 5G NR service in Anchorage, now the nation's northernmost 5G service area. Learn more about GCI at GCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Broadband Corporation (Nasdaq: LBRDA, LBRDK, LBRDP). Learn more about Liberty Broadband at

About BNC
Bethel Native Corporation is respected as a business leader with offices in Bethel, Anchorage and the Lower 48. Bethel's companies engage in many diverse lines of business including government contracting, construction, logistical support, environmental remediation and commercial real estate. Learn more about BNC at

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