Rural Alaska villages to get high-speed Internet

$25.3 million grant will create 60 jobs in the Southwest region

Posted: Monday, December 21, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A partnership between an Alaska contracting company and a firm from the Lower 48 has won the contract to help bring high-speed Internet to areas of Southwest Alaska.

The group Rivada SeaLion was one of 2,200 national applicants for stimulus grants to help extend high-speed Internet into rural locations. The first round of grants - $182 million out of $2.5 billion - was announced this week by the Department of Agriculture.

Rivada SeaLion received a $25.3 million grant that will create 60 jobs in the region. Its task is expanding high-speed Internet to 53 villages ranging from Emmonak to Dillingham.

Rivada SeaLion is a partnership between Sea Lion International, a subsidiary of the Hooper Bay village Native corporation Sea Lion Corp., which specializes in federal contracting; and Rivada Networks, a telecom firm based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook. Villages are excited about it. My board is excited about it," Desiree Pfeffer, chief executive of Sea Lion International, told the Anchorage Daily News.

Rivada Sea Lion plans to spend $6.4 million in addition to the federal grant to build the project, Pfeffer said.

Instead of using new fiber-optic cables or microwave towers to expand coverage, the joint venture plans to use satellite-based technology, she said.

Alex Hills, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and consultant who has worked on Alaska telecom issues for decades, says the federal stimulus dollars as a "huge opportunity" for Alaska.

With the bulk of the federal stimulus broadband grants still to be awarded, "I have high hopes that this is just the beginning for Alaska," Hills said.

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