Building and Sustaining a Tribal Network Surrounded by Mountains and Mesas - Episode 548 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Kevin Shendo, Education Director at the Pueblo of Jemez Department of Education, and Angela Diakah, Network Operations Supervisor at Jemez Pueblo Tribal Network (JPTN). JPTN is a wireless network serving more than 500 households in the Jemez Pueblo north of Albuquerque. Kevin and Angela share the origins of the network, spurred in part by prior serve from Windstream that was costing households on average $100/month for 4/1Mbps service. 

Angela shares the story of her first install and then Kevin walks Christopher through how the Tribe currently subsidizes the entire cost of the network with the help of federal dollars, and the plan for shifting to a traditional subscription service model subsidized at the household level by the Affordable Connectivity Program. Finally, Angela shares some of the network's digital equity and inclusion work to make sure that every household that wants can make the fullest use of its connection.

This show is 25 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Kevin Shendo (00:07):
It's a way for us to now reach the world and not only to learn from it and utilize it, but to also share who we are, to share our art, to share our knowledge, our language, our culture and traditions. But I think also having and operating our own network with the focus of maintaining our language and strengthening that, that we're able to set up an intranet within the Tribe and look at how technology can play a role in continuing to maintain and strengthen the language within our homes and our families. Welcome

Christopher Mitchell (00:38):
To another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today I'm at the National Tribal Telecommunications Association at Gila River Indian Community, and we're talking with Kevin Shindo, the education director at the Pueblo Jemez, and Angela Diahkah, who is the network supervisor at Jemez Pueblo Tribal Network. Welcome.

Kevin Shendo (01:06):
Thank you. Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell (01:08):
I am excited to talk with both of you cuz Kimball has talked up what y'all did, <laugh> and my, my limited work in New Mexico suggests that it's, it's very exciting work. And then Kevin, I saw you on stage yesterday. I took some notes. I'm gonna ask you some of the same questions and maybe probe a little bit deeper. But I'd like to just start by asking you to tell folks about, about the Jemez Pueblo

Kevin Shendo (01:32):
Jemez is located about 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque. We're in the valley surrounded by mountains and mesas. So we have the Jemez Mountains surrounding us. Geographically we're closer to Santa Fe, but the road system it gets you faster to Albuquerque. So we our reservation is about 89,600 acres, but it's three parcels of non-contiguous lands. So the main piece that we live on where the villages, we live in one village approximately 4,000 people. And that's where we had set up our network to serve the Jemez community. We speak the Jemez language and we've been in that area for centuries. It's called ancestral domain and homelands there.

Christopher Mitchell (02:21):
How did an education director gets stuck coming to a conference about Tribal telecom <laugh>?

Kevin Shendo (02:27):
Yeah, good question. No. Well, the way that we first got involved with broadband and, and fiber connectivity was through the fccs E-rate program, educational rate. So in 2016, we did a consortium application working with Kimball at the Santa Fe Indian School. There were two Tribal consortiums that applied to build their own self-provision fiber network. There was the middle Rio Grande and then the Jemez-Zia Consortium. So we worked on those applications, which both got funded. So in 2018, we actually constructed the Jemez-Zia consortium route coming from the data center in Albuquerque through Bernalillo through the Santa Ana Pueblo Zia. And in Jemez, our first institutions connected to Fiber were our charter schools and our Tribal libraries in Jemez and Zia. And so that's how initially we, we brought the broadband high speed Internet to our schools and our libraries first.

Christopher Mitchell (03:27):
Excellent. And Angela, how did you get into all this?

Angela Diahkah (03:30):
I saw Kevin's posting for a call to install Wi-Fi <laugh>. So I was like, oh, okay, well then Covid happened and I was a traveling tech for the BIA and I kind of got grounded because there was no travel allowed and going to different communities. So when I saw a call for technicians to install Wi-Fi, I was like, Ooh, okay, let me inquire. So I'm thinking just go into a home and set up a laptop, putting passwords in and bam, you're done. Once we got together, there was a team of 16 people and he introduced the whole network, the whole fiber that was going in. And I was all like, oh my God, what did I get myself into <laugh>? And so when we started training, it was not just hooking up a laptop to the Wi-Fi, I had to drill a hole through the wall to install the Wi-Fi on the roof and then a air cube inside the home. So it's been a interesting journey. It's been fun and just seeing technology involved and everything that's coming about, it's really fun. I, I really enjoyed my job.

Christopher Mitchell (04:43):
Were you were already li living on the Pueblo at the time?

Angela Diahkah (04:46):
Yes, I was.

Christopher Mitchell (04:47):
So were you there for the, the not so great Internet service that was available

Angela Diahkah (04:51):
Before? Yes. So I'm one of the few people that had Internet at my home all the time. So we started up with dial up and there's only one phone carrier Windstream that provides Internet, so I ultimately upgrade it to dsl. But then the thing is, literally you could take your finger and and draw a line on the ground and they bury the wire. So every single time the road washes out or if there's maintenance, they're always forever cutting it. So I have more downtime than, than being online by career. I am in the IT field computers all the time. So I've always had Internet access, like jet pack and all that. So the 25/3Mbps may not seem a lot, but it's awesome. <Laugh>.

Christopher Mitchell (05:37):
Right. Well I want to, I want to compare that cuz Kevin, you mentioned the pricing so we get a sense that it wasn't super reliable, but what I, what I wrote down, and I don't always write things down accurately, but you suggested it was three megabits down, one megabit up and it was more than a hundred dollars that people were paying for that service.

Kevin Shendo (05:56):
Yes, we were first setting up the network. We did a survey and, and that is correct. It was three down, one up and on average a hundred dollars or 105 I think was the average that a household was paying. I think the lowest was around $50. And the highest that individual or home was paying was $400. Wow. For such service. And so as we built the network just prior to the pandemic when we built the E-rate network, what the Tribe did was they invested in an empty conduit to go along the E-rate conduit. So that infrastructure was put in place prior to the pandemic to plan for future development. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> of the fiber and bringing that technology to the community. But unfortunately we were hit with a pandemic, but fortunately, which brought a lot of resources. And so the Tribe then redirected those resources to populate the second conduit and then provide broadband services not only to the community for distance learning, telehealth and all the things that the pandemic really brought forward but also to bring fiber connectivity to our Tribal programs and the Tribal government. So that's how Angela and the crew came on was at that point in time to help us develop and grow and put in our network there.

Christopher Mitchell (07:13):
So before you had a network director who was making the decisions on what kind of network to build and how to do that in a reasonable timeframe and all of tho that fun thing?

Kevin Shendo (07:22):
Well that was where the education department came in <laugh>. So, no, I feel

Christopher Mitchell (07:27):
Like, let's just, I wanna pause there for a second cuz I feel like if you, if you go back like a little bit, right? We have a massive problem with with children being hungry, like less of the schools solve it. Now we have a big old problem with with with Internet. Let's let the schools solve it. <Laugh>? Yes. All the hard problems follow the schools. I feel like <laugh>.

Kevin Shendo (07:46):
Yes. And so since we had done the work to develop our E-Rate network, we were the department that had the most knowledge at the time to be able to begin then to look at the Tribal network and how that could evolve and what it would be. So we be played an integral role with our Tribal administration, our leadership and the council in beginning to look at putting things into action and really utilizing the expertise of some of the contractors and the engineers that had helped with the E-rate to just transition them to the Tribal

Christopher Mitchell (08:19):
Network. So Angela, I'm curious that you started by learning going from a Wi-Fi technician to drilling through walls. And what was your progress then to now be the network director?

Angela Diahkah (08:30):
Actually it took some convincing cuz I was asked a few times to lead the team and I was hesitant because I just wanted to be a worker and this was just kind of my, my side job, <laugh>. And I actually was a it traveling technician contractor for the BIA. So I still had that contract while I applied for my little side hustle, <laugh>, and again, due the, due to pandemics and then there were deaths happening and I didn't wanna be the blame of bringing the virus to my community because I was traveling to other communities. So at that point in time I had to make a decision to either just stop that job and then continue full-time. So then I considered it and I finally said yes to the supervisory role and that's where I ended up. But my experience come from like over 20 years of work.

I work at the IT field. There's not any really way cuz this is a whole brand new office. We started out with Windows 95 computers, which the libraries like didn't want. We had no data of customers like their residences, nobody's ever written them down. And the crew of 16 that we were on, we literally walked house to house, wrote all the numbers down, provided surveys to see what they thought and then we would go back and pick them up. So we had no email address or anything like that. So Google was our best friend at that point, <laugh>. So we figured out Google sheets and stuff. So a lot of sharing info, a bunch of people working from their phones, updating addresses and stuff and everything kind of just fell in place from there. So now I'm in the supervisory role. But the cool thing that we're a part of is the cool cohort and their ultimate motto is cultivating our own leaders.

So with that in mind I share all my experiences across the board and on the plus side of it is the fact that we get to use our native language so that way if there's any technical knowledge that one doesn't understand, I can break it down into our simple language and, and put it in contents where it's easy for them to know what's going on. So that's helped me a lot and it's a learning curve for everything. And I got Kevin over here as my mentor and some of the things that, cuz I've never really worked for my own Tribe either. And this is the first time, like I said, I love the job, it's a challenge, but it's something new and it's for our people.

Christopher Mitchell (11:03):
Are you using the same technology then that you started with then? Or was there an interim step and you changed the technology for the point to multipoint wireless system?

Angela Diahkah (11:12):
We're still on the same, the same stuff that we originally started with. I know there's brand new things started coming out, but our ultimate goal is fiber to the home. So hopefully we can get away from the wireless, not completely, but at least something like fixed wireless. So that way it's more reliable. Our customers are really happy as, as of March eight, we have 500 top households. So it's a small community, so we know the people and I know who hasn't had it. There are people that feel that it's not gonna be good enough. So they'll be like, okay, well can you just give us a minute to decide or whatnot. And then it turned into a year and they must have packed heard good news because the beginning of this year we thought we were done with installations. And it seems like we are doing an install every now and day, like every now and then up until March 8th. So, and then we have another one that's pending when I get back home. So it's interesting and it's, see, it's good to see that we are growing and people are putting trust and that's the hard thing is making sure that they trust us enough that our network is good. So our response time, we gotta be there when we say, and then the hard part is that sometimes when they're down, they don't let us know.

Christopher Mitchell (12:25):
Oh yeah, I've heard that a lot. So

Angela Diahkah (12:27):
They'll be like, oh, I guess it'll fix itself. It just has kinks. So kind of like Windstream

Christopher Mitchell (12:31):
In the meantime, they'll put something on Facebook, right? Yes. <laugh>, that's, I hear that over and over again from small ISPs and especially Tribal ISPs. It's the first place that people know the problem is on Facebook. Mm-Hmm.

Angela Diahkah (12:42):
<Affirmative>. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, that's one of our things too, is to be more active on Facebook and Instagram, like social media platforms. And then also going into this whole ACP thing is just a, a lot of miscommunication I guess I would say. We've done the advertisement trying to see who's all interested, but it, right now we're not paying for the service so they don't feel that they need to apply. We try to encourage, so we throw out the information, but we only have a handful of responses. So now we have to look at a whole different way to approach the community and then see what's gonna happen. It's like fishing, trying a different bait and see, let's try this one. <Laugh>, how many can we reel in? Well

Christopher Mitchell (13:23):
It's interesting too. I mean, I, I think it's, it's remarkable. You have mo nearly all the households are using it and one of the barriers you've gotten rid of is costs. So Kevin, you mentioned yesterday that the, the Tribe is paying for all of the costs of the network with a plan to eventually then shift to a charging model and taking advantage of the acp. So how has that, how has that worked

Kevin Shendo (13:46):
Out? So initially when the Tribe set up the network and allocated the funding they used initially was a CARES act and the Treasury Act dollars to help sustain the network the staffing and, and the connectivity and supporting the homes to be connected through the Treasury Act dollars that the Tribe received. And so we know that we did advise the community that there would come a time when the Treasury Act dollars ran out that we would be instituting a fee. So we're kind of in that transitional phase at the moment now to begin to look at how do we then in sustaining the program and the services that we're providing then transition the homes from a free service that the Tribe is providing as a result of the pandemic to now having to charge and, and and pay for that service. And so that's where the affordable connectivity program can come in to help the Tribe sustain and provide some of the resources to help us with that, the cost of the connectivity for the homes.

Christopher Mitchell (14:46):
Do you think that when you remind people about that conversation, many of them will remember that you warned them that there would come a day when they were gonna pay

Kevin Shendo (14:54):
<Laugh>. We can reprint those flyers that we delivered back then

Christopher Mitchell (14:59):

Kevin Shendo (15:00):
And yes. And I think that, you know, the other thing is that, you know, now is kind of an opportune time where Angie stated that, well, they're not paying for the service so they're not really committing to apply for the ACP program. But I think if we frame it in a way where now we're gonna have to bring in the monthly charge but to offset that cost, you can apply to this program to help subsidize your monthly fee. So that may is another strategy that we've talked about in our looking at.

Christopher Mitchell (15:30):
Do you anticipate any challenges just from what we've heard of issues with the paperwork, people having the right documentation addresses possibly not lining up right, all the different hassles that we're hearing people having to deal with as is that a concern?

Kevin Shendo (15:46):
Yes. And, and I think ongoing it's gonna be something that we continue to revisit and how do we best support our community members in our homes to be able to go through the application process. Angie and her team have been great in getting into the system and learning the kinks and trying to understand that so they can be able to help the people. And one of the pluses moving forward is they've been able to secure a grant, what was just shared by the FCC as that outreach grant so that we're able to now dedicate staff to go out into the community to sign up these homes and these families and have more of that one-on-one and that will continue to be supported moving forward.

Christopher Mitchell (16:25):
I feel like that's a classic blessing and a curse. Do you get to do the paperwork on that Angela then? <Laugh>?

Angela Diahkah (16:30):
Yes, <laugh>. So as a part of my role of being a supervisor, not only are you a supervisor, I gotta be the admin person, I gotta be everything else. And like low and behold, like next thing you know, I see grant applications and like difficult questions, but when you really sit down and break it up and think about it, it's just literally what comes to mind or what's on my heart. I write and it's the truth. And through that my teammates and I, we were able to secure two of the grants. One is the digital navigator and the digital inclusion, which is the whole grant. And what I like to call it is bridging the gap between technology and traditions because we do have homes that have our high speed broadband, but some homes may only have one cell phone connected, so they're not really using the full capability of what it's intended for.

They may have a smart TV, but they just don't know how to connect it. And while we were doing the installation, so, oh well while you're here, let me take out my laptop, can you do this for me? So I never flat out said no, but I said, okay, I'll give, I'll leave a technician there for 20 minutes. I said, meet us at the next install, help 'em out. So now it gives us a greater opportunity cuz the fact that it is funded for that purpose and I'm just willing to close up that divide that they're, that exists. And then my main source of bringing things together is using our native tongue so that way everybody gets a better understanding and a better grasp of what they're trying to learn and feel included in today's world. And then also with the second grant with the ACP outreach, that is awesome because Kevin here as education director, they focus mainly on language and make sure that we don't lose it. They have community events. So I'm all like, Kevin, can we set up a boot at your community event? Like let us be a part of it too. So just working and collaborating with these efforts going forward, I think it's gonna be a greater success and we'll reach more people and now that the funding is available, that's what is intended for and I'm really looking forward to, to good things. Now

Christopher Mitchell (18:46):
You're really looking forward, if I'm, if I could read in your mind, I think you might really be looking forward to when the fiber to the Home Network is totally built. Yes. Because I feel like you have yet another hurdle to like manage that process <laugh>, and then once that's done, it'll be easy street for you. I hope <laugh>.

Angela Diahkah (18:59):
I hope so. But like I said, it's for the future. It's for us, and I've kind of always been technology minded, but when you come from a reservation where you have for nothing and when you're a little kid, you're like, Ooh, I want a computer. Or like, Ooh, I wonder how that typewriter works kind of thing. And now today's children, they're growing up with little like iPads and whatnot already, well since they're young, but then once you see their videos start buffering, they're like having a tantrum here, <laugh>. So I mean it's, it's, it's a, it's a big difference. And then with, with the whole virtual school having all the grandmas and whatnot, trying to connect their grandkids as laptop and whatnot for them to go to class, it's actually a necessity. So we're hoping to just support a wide scope and it is the world. I mean now that is the future of broadband is

Christopher Mitchell (19:50):
Yeah, there's there's a comment that was made, I guess we can, we can end on this if, if you both have a comment about it. I'm curious. It was I forget who it was yesterday was saying that what they're really excited about is that the world will get a better chance to understand the, the genius of people that are on the Pueblo's on the reservation who haven't had a chance to share their thoughts with their world, their art worth the world, you know, their intelligence with the world. And now that we get the Internet connection, it's not just that they can get educated, it's that they can also be a part of the world as well. And so the rest of the world will benefit from that.

Angela Diahkah (20:24):
I think so. And in my comments on that too as well, like my grandparents my grandma's 93 and my grandpa's 89 I installed Wi-Fi in the house, not only for us grandkids, but I gave everybody a Roku for Christmas. So because with the pandemic, all our dances and everything stopped, so whatever they were recording and local singers known as the Cloud Eagles, they would do lives and people would comment what they want to hear, but it's just to encourage people not to give up. But the sound of the drum, it's our heartbeat too. So when you hear it, it's like right away you, you automatically just get excited. So with that, we're keeping our grandparents entertained and, and keeping them in the loop, not forgetting where we come from, but still knowing where we can find that content online, you know, it takes their, their mind off of things there for a minute. So I was really grateful for that.

Christopher Mitchell (21:20):
That's great. I bet Kevin wishes he didn't have to follow you with that <laugh>.

Kevin Shendo (21:25):
Well, I, I think we're bringing broadband and this new technology, it does open many doors. Not only for our young people that are in the school system, but also for the elders in the home and really looking at how we can maximize on the technology. You know, there's always looking at telehealth and, and some of those opportunities that are there. There's economic development opportunities that our people can take advantage of. And like you said, it's a way for us to now reach the world. And not only to learn from it and utilize it, but to also share who we are, to share our art, to share our knowledge, our language, our culture and traditions. But I think also having an operating our own network with the focus of maintaining our language and strengthening that, that we're able to set up an intranet within the Tribe and look at how technology can play a role in continuing to maintain and strengthen the language within our homes and our families where we may not have speakers but continue to provide the language learning on another level as well too.

And so I think that there's a lot of opportunities that exist that we have not realized and that we have not tapped into. And I think that's the beauty of this technology is that as we own it and as we maintain it, there's a lot that we can do to really support our local Tribal priorities. And you know, we don't have much economic development in Hamas cuz we're in a rural area and it's more tourism traffic that goes through our area. But the fiber optic cable provides a means for economic development moving forward as well too.

Christopher Mitchell (23:04):
Wonderful. And so much of it was eased by that smart decision to add the second conduit with the eRate program. So really glad that worked out and really wanna thank both of you for your time today.

Kevin Shendo (23:15):
Certainly. Thank you. And you know, we appreciate the vision and foresight of our council to be able to see that and when they were met with that opportunity that they took advantage of it because that put us a lot further ahead in most communities when the pandemic did hit.

Christopher Mitchell (23:29):
Yes. Wonderful. Thank you both.

Kevin Shendo (23:32):
Thank you.

Ry Marcattilio (23:33):
We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni Email with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at Community Nets, follow muni stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. Subscribe to this another podcast from I L S R, including Building Local Power Local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly While you're there, please take a moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arne Hughes B for the song Warm Duck Shuffle License through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.