Broadband is a Game Changer for Arctic Economic Development

Tina Pidgeon, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer, and Senior Vice President, Governmental Affairs, GCI


At no time has there been greater interest in the Arctic – not just in the United States, but globally. Right now the economic development prospects presented by the convergence of interest and change in the Arctic region give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be pioneers. With smart, sustainable development that is informed and guided by traditional knowledge and the Alaskan experience, we can ensure that economic opportunity and stewardship of the Arctic’s challenging while fragile environment are not at odds.    

One area where this is true is the expansion of advanced communications – high-speed broadband.  Connectivity is critical for schools, hospitals and businesses and to close the digital divide that exists for those that live in rural communities. We’ve made progress, but there is more to do. Infrastructure is costly to deploy, and often challenging to reliably maintain, in the Arctic environment.  That cost is not covered by service to relatively low populations.  How can we create a situation where broadband development will be a positive part of Arctic change?  A necessary predicate is what I call “game changers.”

Game changers” are projects that make the investment in infrastructure possible.  Specifically, strategic government investments necessitated by needs of local communities, effects of Arctic change, and increased human activity can kick start the virtuous circle in which public funding produces a multiplying effect on private investment.  For example, new roads can create the opportunity for fiber investment that may have been precluded by permitting or construction challenges on a stand-alone basis.  A deep-water port or aggregated demand for data collection and computing for scientific research could be the tipping point for a business case supporting network infrastructure. 

These are just a few examples of how these and other game-changing strategic investments could unleash further economically sustainable investments in communications infrastructure in the Arctic.

Alaskans have proven we can work together constructively and we look forward to continuing on that path toward bringing advanced communications to the Arctic, in support of the US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, as “one Arctic, with shared opportunities, challenges and responsibilities.”