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Group to map Internet availability

December 1, 2009

By Kim Marquis
Juneau Empire

$1.9 million in federal stimulus money will pay for the project

The Denali Commission will spend nearly $2 million over the next five years figuring out who in Alaska can stream YouTube videos.

Under the project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Denali Commission will collect and verify the availability, speed and location of broadband Internet access across the state.

The information will be displayed in a national broadband map to show exactly where in the country broadband exists.

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the $1.9 million award Monday.

The Denali Commission is an independent federal agency tasked with delivering cost-effective government services in the state. It was chosen by the governor to apply for the funding.

The commission previously had an interest in broadband connectivity when, in 2000, it compared urban and rural access. Not surprisingly, rural Alaska was found to be less connected, said chief operating officer Krag Johnsen. The study found that 61 percent of communities in the state did not have local Internet availability.

"It's increased significantly since then," said Johnsen, who will head the new mapping project in Alaska. "Internet access is available in most rural communities now, but at varying speeds."

The new project will map - down to the census-block level - where broadband exists. Johnsen called it "very granular, very detailed" information.

"We're going to have to collect information from all the telecommunications and Internet providers on the availability of broadband in the state, so it's a major undertaking," he said.

The mapping project will take place simultaneously with Internet infrastructure improvements also funded by federal stimulus dollars made available by the Recovery Act.

About a dozen jobs for information gathering or mapmaking would be created under the Denali Commission's umbrella over the term of the project, Johnsen said. The commission is based in Anchorage.

The grant also will support a steering committee of unpaid members to oversee the effort, produce annual reports and plan future broadband expansion.

The Denali Commission received $1.4 million for data collection and mapping over a two-year period, and nearly $500,000 for planning over five years.

Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri also received grants for mapping broadband.

The Recovery Act requires the national broadband map be made available by Feb. 17, 2011. It will publicly display geographic areas where broadband service is available, the technology used to provide it and the speeds. It also will show availability at schools, libraries, hospitals and public buildings.

The map will be searchable by address and show providers offering service in the corresponding census block or street segment.

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