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Infrastructure law, ‘Build Back Better’ bill to benefit Filipino teachers in Alaska

Bev Llorente | TFC News USA

Posted at Dec 09 2021 12:00 PM

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Hazel Tagaan Zambas frequently walks on a snowy, icy road towards the school where she's teaching, just to connect to the internet.

Zambas is among hundreds of J1 teachers hired from the Philippines to work in Alaska. She's located in the remote village of St. Michael that is only accessible by water and air. "Our school provides us [with a] van to go back and forth the school so if we stay longer, we can no longer ride the van. So we have to walk at least two miles every day and suffer that great wind," Zambas shares, adding that connectivity in her village has always been a challenge. "If we are at home, we are using our data sa cellphone namin. That is why we have to stay there to connect with our families."

Broadband connectivity is also an issue in the Alakanuk village, where Dr. Cely B. Labadan is teaching special and general education. She stresses the need to improve the internet connection as it affects the visuals used for her lesson plans. Labadan also points out that broadband connectivity is essential because it enables her to stay in touch with her family back home.

"It connects [us] to our family in the Philippines. We don't feel home sick," Labadan says.

The broadband problem in Alaska's far-flung villages will soon be addressed, as the state is expecting to receive over $1 billion for the development of high speed broadband networks. This is part of US President Joe Biden's bipartisan infrastructure law and the 'Build Back Better' act.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Alaska's deputy chief of staff Tyson Gallagher asserted that broadband connectivity is a huge issue in Alaska as low quality bandwidth in rural communities have been very difficult to many villagers.

"We are very excited to build out our broadband networks and bring better connectivity in everybody's homes... Good internet becomes a quality of life issue, where if you don't have a good internet, people don't really want to live there," Gallagher says.

Currently, Alaskans in rural communities are likely paying at least $600 to $700 a month for internet service.

"One of the exciting things about this infrastructure funding for broadband coming to Alaska is [that] a really key piece to this is affordability and equity, and so any applicants that want to apply for this funding to build broadband infrastructure, they have to offer low price options to qualifying consumers. People that can't afford $700 bucks a month shouldn't have to pay it," Gallagher notes.

According to Gallagher, Alaska is also poised to get funding for the operation of Alaska's ferry system, as well as the construction of bridges and roads. "It's a great win for Alaska. It will allow the state to save some state funding, and it allows us to kind of build this bridge and get as much ferry service out to people in coastal communities while we figure out how to make it sustainable in a long term."