The Cordova Telecom Cooperative and Cordova Electric Cooperative outside plant crews work to deploy conduit for fiber and power to Orca Power Plant. From left to right: CTC foreman Adrian Smith, CTC Combo Tech John Maygard, CEC Lineman Ben Simpler, and CEC Lineman Apprentice Robert Sliveira. Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Beckett and the Cordova Telecom Cooperative

The Cordova Telecom Cooperative (CTC) announced Monday that it received a $34,905,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utility Service ReConnect Round 4 program. The grant award will be used to build a 560-mile submarine fiberoptic cable from Cordova to Juneau.

The news was shared at a press conference on Tuesday at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage by federal and state officials including Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, and Mitch Landrieu — the senior advisor to the president and White House infrastructure coordinator. The CTC project funding joins two other similar USDA-funded projects in the state: $29.9 million for Bush-Tell Inc. for the Bethel and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta census areas, and $35 million for Unicom Inc. to serve the Bethel and Kusilvak census areas.

“Alaska has lagged behind the rest of the country in broadband Internet access for too long,” said Peltola. “Access to the Internet is now essential for everyday life.”

The congress member said that even traditionally disconnected sectors, like hunting and fishing, now often require visiting the proper websites for regulations and information.

“Our rural Alaskan communities deserve the same level of access to government services, healthcare, education, and commerce as the rest of the state, and I am proud of the work that our bipartisan delegation has done to secure this record amount of funding — now nearly $2 billion in total — and the listening that the administration done to understand our unique needs,” Peltola said.

The project, Fiber Internet Serving Homes in Southeast Alaska (FISH in SEAK), will complement three other CTC federally-funded projects: the Chenega Highspeed Internet Project (CHIP), the New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat project (NICEY), and most recently, the Fiber Internet Serving Homes in Alaska project (FISH in AK).


The new cable will have additional fiber branches to Yakutat, Gustavus, and Hoonah, and bring Fiber-To-The-Home to the unserved community of Pelican. CTC will match $11,635,000 of the grant award, bringing the total contribution to the communities to $46,540,000. Once laid, the cable will include service to 28 people, eight businesses, and one educational facility in the Hoonah-Angoon Census Area.

The ReConnect Program is a USDA program that offers federal funding options in the form of grants, loans, and combinations of the two for projects that develop broadband in rural areas of the country without strong internet access.

This is not CTC’s first foray with the ReConnect Program. Under the first iteration of the program, Cordova was the only Alaskan recipient.

CTC went through a rigorous application process to receive these grants. Since CTC applied for the grants, the bulk of the application process went through them, but CTC officials visited regional communities to learn what their needs were.

Sarah Kathrein, a project manager with CTC, said that because of Cordovans’ connections to Yakutat they knew they wanted to extend their project to the area with redundancies, so it made sense to stop in Juneau. Due to the history of earthquakes and the remoteness of these locations, Kathrein said redundancy is necessary.

Kathrein said that at this point, “broadband is a right.” She said that this project will give “access we all take for granted.”

Patricia Phillips, the mayor of Pelican, said that public safety, work from home opportunities, and education will be revolutionized for the people of Pelican with the new broadband connection.

Phillips said the CTC reached out to Pelican for support for their grant application, as the application would do better if they could tie in other communities. Phillips said that it made sense to get in on the project, as the fiber optic line was going to run past Pelican anyway. When she pitched the collaboration with the Pelican council, she told them the town could either get in on the project on the front end or wait for internet service providers to come to them. They decided to jump on the opportunity.

“In the region, we’re all fragmented communities,” she said. “Connecting us better to the outside world is key for economic development.”

Phillips said that broadband will improve safety for people in the region, noting that the Alaska weather channel is accessed through YouTube and better internet will make viewing it easier.

Additionally, she said local businesses could sell items and services from websites, and the new cable could expand remote work opportunities. Phillips said unless you’re a fisherman, processor, work for a lodge, or are a government employee, employment opportunities are limited — but that work-from-home jobs could change this. Additionally, community members could access training or schooling programs online to advance their opportunities.

Chris Cropley, the director of Tidal Network at Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, repeated similar draws to the advanced broadband services.

Cropley praised CTC for the communicative and positive collaboration, and the potential for bringing internet to communities and thus rural communities to the rest of the world. While Cordova is outside their service area, Yakutat and Pelican are in their service area.

He also highlighted the benefits to local businesses and creators, saying he is excited about the possible outreach master carvers, weavers, and language speakers have to share their knowledge with the rest of the world. Cropley additionally emphasized the importance for regions without mental health services, saying that now those services can be brought in remotely.

“(Broadband expansion) really shrinks the world again and I don’t really know how many more opportunities we will get to do that,” he said, emphasizing that now residents have the opportunity to get new jobs and go through training programs without having to leave their hometown.

Cropley said their challenge is now to show people the advantage broadband is to their lives.

He said the Tribe is working to immediately engage digital navigators to encourage connectivity and create digital equity. Cropley also said just because providers bring higher-speed internet to communities doesn’t mean people will use it, and it was important to meet people where they are at to figure out what their need is.

The state grants $75 a month for households to pay for broadband, but of the 90,000 households eligible, only just over 14,000 have signed up.

Cropley described the CTC project as “once in a generation” and “transformational.”

“It’ll pay dividends forever,” he said. “Now is the time to plant those trees.” CTC will continue working with Pioneer Consulting to design the path of the undersea cable and its branches, and work is expected to take five years. Installation of the fiberoptic cable is currently planned for 2026.