Alaska Plan is a funding win that 'future proofs' networks, ATA members say

Image: Ken Conger/NPS Photo/CNN

The Alaska Plan approved this week by the FCC is going to work, said the ATA (Alaska Telephone Association), the leading proponent of the funding plan, mainly because it provides “predictable USF support payments” that are critical to keeping carriers in business in the United States’ highest-cost telecom operating area.

Under the new plan, 15 wireline and wireless providers in the state will receive over $1 billion in federal funds over a 10-year period to invest in their telecommunications infrastructure.

“Alaska represents the highest-cost local telecom construction and ongoing operating costs in the nation,” said Ed Cushing, president of the ATA and division manager of KTU Telecommunications, which serves the Ketchikan area, in a release (PDF). “Providing rural Alaskans with high-quality, affordably-priced broadband service simply is not possible without the predictable USF support payments secured by the FCC's approval of Alaska Plan."

Under the plan, which differs quite a bit from other universal service funding in the lower 48 states, both wireline and wireless carriers in the state will receive funding that is fixed at adjusted 2011 rates.

FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mignon Clyburn both disagreed with the approval of the Alaska Plan, saying that it violates a fundamental principle of USF reform, that of service overlap.

However, Alaska-based telcos that are part of the ATA don’t see an issue, and said the funding is a huge boost to their efforts to maintain, upgrade and expand broadband to their respective service footprints.

"I am really appreciative that the FCC approved the Alaska Plan, as the financial certainty it provides will enable OTZ Telephone to take on and complete some really exciting and essential wireless and wireline projects," said OTZ Telephone Cooperative CEO Doug Neal, in an ATA release.

Jens Laipenieks, CEO of the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, said that the FCC’s plan gives the region’s telecoms a “certainty in funding” that “has thawed the chilled lending market.” ASTAC is finalizing a loan package to support its five-year buildout plan that he said “future proofs” their network.

Under the plan, telcos in the state are expected to make 10 Mbps wireline broadband speeds available to 90 percent and 4G LTE speeds available to 85 percent of Alaskans.

For more:
- see this ATA release (PDF)

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