Politics

Alaska set to increase grants for download speeds at rural schools

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy plans to sign legislation passed days ahead of a funding application deadline that aims to increase internet download speeds for rural schools.

Under the bill, HB193, schools would be able to get grants to increase download speeds to 100 megabits per second, a four-fold increase over what is currently available in state law, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Supporters of the measure see it as an equity issue. The Federal Communications Commission this month said modern broadband networks should provide at least 100 mbps.

ALASKA LAWMAKERS FAIL TO OVERRIDE OF GOV. DUNLEAVY’S VETO OF EDUCATION PACKAGE

A version of the internet bill passed the Senate last year but was rewritten in the House this session to become a broader education package that Dunleavy vetoed late last month. Lawmakers failed to override the veto, leaving them scrambling to get another bill passed that would help eligible schools apply for funding before a Wednesday deadline.

Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference on topics including education on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

The Senate passed HB193 Monday, following House passage last week. Dunleavy, on social media, said while the bill “is not perfect and there is additional need for more work on the affordability of broadband in Alaska, this is a step in the right direction. The increased internet speed will help schools’ educational process, especially in rural Alaska.”

There is disagreement over the program’s cost. The state education department estimates it would cost nearly $40 million per year but members of the Alaska Telecom Association say the cost to the state is likely closer to $15 million a year. Federal grants typically match state funds 8 to 1.

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Last year, 151 schools received $6.6 million in state funding for up to 25 mbps download speeds.

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