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The Qawalangin Tribe works to bring more broadband options to Unalaska

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Berett Wilber
/
KUCB
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission offered free broadband licenses to tribal governments in a push to bring better connectivity to tribal communities across the nation. Now, they’re giving out grant money to build the infrastructure needed to actually deliver that broadband to consumers.

The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska has applied for funding that could boost the island’s broadband capabilities.

If approved, the tribe would use the money towards building a fiber optic cable from Washington state to Unalaska.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission offered free broadband licenses to tribal governments in a push to bring better connectivity to tribal communities across the nation. Now, they’re giving out grant money to build the infrastructure needed to actually deliver that broadband to consumers.

Applicants developed proposals for how they plan to build out the infrastructure in their specific community. The Qawalangin Tribe’s CEO, Chris Price, said they decided to move forward with a fiber optic plan because it was the only option that could deliver their desired speeds to the island cheaply.

“This was really about the best opportunity for the tribal members to get long-term service and low-cost internet, and it really just became apparent that this is the best approach for our tribe,” Price said.

Tribal members and Ounalashka Corporation shareholders would own the fiber, but could lease access to any company or organization to use.

The telecommunications company GCI is currently in the process of developing its own fiber optic line to Unalaska — expected to go live in late 2022.

Price said a second fiber optic cable to the island would benefit the community by creating “diverse path routing,” or redundancy.

Price also said the tribe’s cable would be carrier neutral. That means it wouldn’t be connected to a specific internet service provider, so there would be an open market for different companies to use it.

“If we get the fiber to Unalaska, we’ll have an opportunity for any business that wants to provide internet service in the community to negotiate and work with the tribe and OC to develop their own internet service,” Price said.

The tribe also applied for federal funding to build a learning center, where tribe members and OC shareholders would be able to use cheap or free broadband for things like telemedicine and online learning. It would also be open to the community at large.

The Qawalangin Tribe will likely know if they’re approved to receive the funding by Dec. 1.

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