tribal lands

Gigabit Speed in Red Lake Nation in Minnesota

Native American communities throughout the United States have rather bleak figures when it comes to Internet access. That’s about to change.

In Minnesota, Red Lake Nation now has access to some of the fastest Internet service in the entire country. The telephone cooperative Paul Bunyan Communications has extended its GigaZone, offering a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) per second Internet service, to the tribal nation. 

Future Focused

In Red Lake Nation News, Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., described the benefits of this new high-speed Internet access: 

“Having access to fiber Internet services is vital to our rural economy and impacts so many aspects of life. To start a new business, find a good job, or get a high quality education you need a quality high-speed Internet connection. The GigaZone is on the cutting edge of technology and enhances the Red Lake Nation's unique assets, including a large workforce and the Red Lake Nation College, for economic development and business expansion. We're excited about the positive impact this will have on our Tribe now and well into the future."

The Gigabit service will be available in the communities of Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock and Ponemah. The Red Lake Nation is home to about 13,000 Ojibwe members, and is the only “closed reservation” (meaning that the land is held in common) in Minnesota. The nation is a model of self-reliance: they just announced the launch of an all-solar electricity project.

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The high-speed Internet service is provided by Paul Bunyan Communications based out of Bemidji, Minnesota, which is about 45 minutes south of Red Lake. The telephone cooperative has built out one of the largest Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks in the United States. Read more of our coverage of Paul Bunyan Communications; we expect to see even more from this community focused rural cooperative.

An Expanding Movement

The Red Lake Nation is the latest community to work with a rural cooperative to get Internet access for the 21st century. Cooperatives are quickly becoming a prime source of high-quality Internet access for rural residents and businesses. When national providers won't invest in less populated areas, cooperatives are taking up the challenge. We've compiled a list of approximately 200 rural telephone, electric, and broadband cooperatives that are now offering Gigabit connectivity, mostly in rural areas. That list is expanding as rural America refuses to be left on the sidelines and cooperatives help their communities to stay competitive.

Rural Electric Co-ops Power Up a Gig in Pacific Northwest

Rural electric cooperatives are providing next-generation connectivity. In Oregon a consortium of electric cooperatives called LS Networks built a middle mile network a few years ago and now are taking the next step with last mile connectivity.

LS Networks’ Connected Communities program hopes to bring last mile fiber connectivity to 25 communities in rural Oregon and Washington. Internet access will officially be available in early 2017 in some communities. Depending on the needs of each community, the solution could be Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH), or fixed wireless using the fiber-optic network for backhaul.

Connected Communities

The project started in July, but LS Networks only now made the official announcement. The Connected Communities program asks folks to nominate their community to be connected by filling out a short form. LS Networks will offer two types of monthly plans [pdf]: 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for $40 and a Gigabit (1,000 Megabits) for $70. Customers will also be able to purchase voice service for an additional $15 per line and 50 cents per phone number.

Currently, the small, northern Oregon town of Maupin is the only official Connected Community. LS Networks is already at work building out a fiber connection to nearly all of the 400+ homes and businesses in the community. On November 9th, Maupin residents can take part in a town hall meeting at the South Wasco County High School to learn more about LS Networks’ plans and the Connected Communities program.

Consortium of Cooperatives

LS Networks should be well prepared to handle such a large-scale fiber network project. The consortium of electric cooperatives and the Coquille Tribe came together around 2005 to provide middle mile connectivity. At first, the consortium focused on their region of northern Oregon, but LS Networks’ footprint quickly grew to 7,500 route miles of fiber. The network spread throughout the Pacific Northwest, covering rural regions of Washington, some areas of northern California, and even parts of Idaho. 

If all goes as planned, rural homes and businesses in Oregon and Washington will soon have access to affordable next-generation technology. In the press release, Director of Sales and Marketing Bryan Adams highlighted how LS Networks continued to stay true to its cooperative roots

“Our priority has always been to provide service before profit and to use telecommunications as a tool to bridge the communities that make the Pacific Northwest great — on both sides of the Cascades.”

To learn more about the Connected Communities program, check out the LS Networks Connected Communites information website.

Community Connections - Matt Rantanen, Tribal Digital Village

Tribal governments face unique problems when connecting their communities, but the need is great. 

In this episode of Community Connections, Christopher Mitchell speaks with Matt Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association (SCTCA) and Director of the Tribal Digital Village (TDV) Initiative. Mitchell and Rantanen talk about the special challenges of deploying fiber on tribal lands.

 


The Importance of Data and Cooperation: Tribal Lands

As of now, 41% of tribal lands do not have high-speed Internet access according to the FCC Broadband Report of 2016 released on January 29, 2016. That same day, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a study of high-speed Internet access on tribal lands. 

The GAO report (GAO-16-222) reviewed previous federal programs that aimed to improve Internet access and interviewed several tribal entities. The result reveals the perspective of communities impacted by the data and cooperation - or lack of both - among the different federal entities. Long before this report, the FCC had recognized the shortcomings of these programs and began to improve data collection and inter-governmental cooperation.

Highlighted Areas for Improvement

The GAO focused mainly on FCC and USDA programs from 2010 – 2014, especially those that specifically addressed tribal connectivity. GAO researchers collected the perspectives of several tribal entities, which provided useful qualitative data to understand the impact of Internet access on these communities.

Tribal officials noted that the important role the FCC and USDA programs had in expanding high-speed Internet access. Throughout the report are anecdotes of how the several programs have benefitted tribal lands. The outreach efforts of the two federal agencies, however, are not always well coordinated:

“Officials from one tribe said that multiple federal programs offering similar grants were confusing and that a federal one-stop-shop for outreach and training would help them better target the right programs for their situation.“ (p. 22)

The report also touched on the quality of quantitative data. In 2006, there was little meaningful data. Although the situation has improved, reliable data is still lacking. Tribal lands are often rural and sparsely populated, such that census blocks (the basis of much data collection) cover large areas. This method can grossly overstate the availability of Internet access in such an environment.

GAO Recommendations and FCC Action

“GAO recommends that FCC (1) develop joint training and outreach with USDA; (2) develop performance goals and measures for tribal areas for improving broadband availability to households; (3) develop performance goals and measures for improving broadband availability to tribal schools and libraries; and (4) improve the reliability of FCC data related to institutions that receive E-rate funding by defining “tribal” on the program application.” (GAO-16-222)

The FCC and USDA had already recognized many of these problems and solutions and had already started to implement them. The Wireline Competition Bureau Chief DelNero and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Acting Chief Kutler responded to the recommendations. Their letter is included in the appendix of the GAO report. They assured the GAO that the FCC was already taking action on improving many of these areas. 

At the end of the day…

The report serves as a reminder that the programs of 2010-2014 have improved the availability of Internet access but not done enough for tribal lands. We still have a long way to go to bring tribal residents the access they need to participate in the 21st century.

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