Alaska broadband company MTA says FTTH costs $9,000 per passing

  • The Alaskan broadband provider MTA is a co-op that's owned by its member customers.
  • MTA is paying about $9,000 to $10,000 per passing to deploy fiber to its members
  • The company plans to apply for BEAD funds

If there are any telcos in the U.S. that are experts at closing the digital divide it’s telcos in Alaska. The state encompasses 663,267 square miles, which is more than Texas, California and Montana combined.

And Alaska’s MTA has been connecting citizens of the state for over 70 years, so it has a lot of experience. MTA is a cooperative where its customers are also its owners. It was formed in 1953 to bring telephone service to people. And it’s evolved, like all telecom companies, over the years. Currently, it’s focused on making sure its 34,000 members have fiber broadband.

Michael Burke, CEO of MTA, told Fierce Network that the company covers broadband subscribers across 10,000 square miles, which is about the same size as the state of Maryland, but with less than 2% population density.

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced some grant winners for its ReConnect broadband program. And the announcement revealed that the Alaska Telephone Company, which won a $33 million grant, was planning to run fiber to 211 homes and five businesses at a staggering cost of nearly $204,000 per passing.

Needless to say, taxpayers were mortified.

Burke said, “Most of the places you’re hearing about $200,000 are far from the road system. Our average cost is more in the range of $9,000 to $10,000 per location. But it still adds up to a lot.”

MTA has 5,500 miles of infrastructure in its network. It’s passing about 3,000-3,500 homes per year with fiber. Most of these locations have DSL, which MTA is overbuilding with fiber. It also deploys fiber to the home (FTTH) in new subdivisions. 

Even though it is building fiber as fast as it can, it’s constrained by a construction season that is only five months because of the long winters.

Asked for tips on closing the digital divide with fiber, Burke said, “The biggest thing is really understanding the areas you’re going to try to serve.” It’s important to study the maps, know the different types of terrain and understand the permitting requirements. It’s also important to have qualified work crews at the ready.

MTA tries to keep its broadband prices as low as possible. Since it’s a cooperative it can either use profits to fund capital costs for more expansions or it can lower prices for its members. Currently, it charges about $170 per month for 1 Gbps service.

Burke said not only is the cost of fiber deployment high in Alaska, but long-haul transport costs are also expensive because MTA’s closest internet peering location is 2,000 miles away.


Alaska received $1 billion in Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment (BEAD) funds. The Alaska Broadband Office is currently in the middle of its FCC map challenge process as part of BEAD. As of June 5, the in-state mapping challenge portal has closed, and as of June 6, the rebuttal portal is open until July 5.

Burke said MTA will apply for BEAD grants, but “It’s more just continuing to do fiber-to-the-home builds and upgrades.” For its part, MTA also benefits from government funds through the Alaska Plan and through ReConnect grants.

He said there will definitely be places in Alaska where fixed wireless access (FWA) and satellite technology make the most sense. “BEAD focuses on fiber because it’s future proof,” said Burke. “But there are places where it just won’t be practical.”

He pointed out that even FWA needs fiber to the cell tower for backhaul. “It [FWA] is not a magic bullet everywhere.”