January 29, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Broadband stimulus projects focused on delivering high-speed Internet services directly to citizens represent one of four categories for which grants are being awarded by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the two agencies distributing $7.2 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for broadband projects. Networks that bring services directly to users are referred to as "last mile."
Among the winners in the last-mile category was Alaska-based Sea Lion Management Group, partnered with Colorado-based Rivada Networks. The two companies secured $25.3 million from the RUS to bring high-speed wireless connectivity to 44 impoverished communities in southwestern Alaska. Many of the homes in those communities lack access to water and sewer systems. Residents use outhouses and haul water manually from a central location. Some of the villages are not connected to main roads and are usually accessed by small airplanes.
"It's very remote and a very challenging arctic environment in which to work," said Desiree Pfeffer, CEO of Sea Lion Management Group.
The area covers 90,000 square miles and is home to 29,886 villagers, according to a 2008 U.S. Census estimate.
The broadband project will deploy satellite technology and a mesh network of wireless nodes to deliver services to residents and government institutions, like schools and libraries. Subscriptions will cost roughly $30 per month, and Pfeffer said Sea Lion was confident it could attract enough business to sustain the network financially. She declined to specify the number of subscriptions Sea Lion and Rivada Networks would need to reach that sustainability.
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