A Tribal Wireless Network in Northern California - Episode 521 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Matthew Douglas, Broadband Manager at the Hoopa Valley Public Utility District. At the start of the pandemic, HVPUD launched a wireless network initiative using $2 million in CARES Act funds to benefit Tribal members who had poor or no connectivity options. Matthew shared the lessons they learned during the process (including at one of the first Tribal Wireless Bootcamps), including navigating old-growth forest, navigating equipment and signal challenges in a particularly grueling topography, working with vendors with things don't go as planned, and managing sector costs. Recently, the effort won an NTIA grant to embark on a new fiber work and a wireless backhaul build to bring in significant new capacity to increase speeds and resiliency in the region.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed

Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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.


Speygee (00:07):

We as native people have huge buying power right now, and we need to take advantage of that and just respect ourselves.

Christopher Mitchell (00:15):

Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, normally in St. Paul, Minnesota, but today I find myself on the Gila River River Reservation in, in the Arizona area. And talking with someone that I've gotten know quite well over the years, especially after a great dinner last night. Speygee welcome to the show.

Speygee (00:39):

Hello. Thank you for having me.

Christopher Mitchell (00:40):

So, I, I think some people not your friends know you as Matthew Douglas

Speygee (00:45):

<laugh>. <laugh>. Yes. but I go by Speygee. Yep.

Christopher Mitchell (00:48):

And you are with Hoopa Valley Public Utility District,

Speygee (00:52):

Correct? Yeah, I'm the broadband manager there. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (00:55):

So tell us what is, what is Hoopa Valley to start off with?

Speygee (00:59):

Well, Hoopa Valley is a reservation. It's a square 10 by 10 in Northern California in Humboldt County. It's about two hours south of the Oregon border, and about an hour and 15 minutes east inland from the coast. We are on the Trinity River, which is a tributary that leads into the Klamath,

Christopher Mitchell (01:19):

Which is something that is pretty important cuz you're you're the area where everyone lives on the reservation is all pretty tightly clustered, right? Because you have a lot of hills

Speygee (01:27):

And, oh, yeah. So we have so about a seven mile stretch within the valley that around a mile from the river river's edge is where everybody lives on the east and west of the river. It's a north, running north to south Running River through the valley.

Christopher Mitchell (01:45):

And I think that's, it's important because people are like, oh, you're like 10, 10 by 10 miles. Like you have, like what, like how many people the population from the last census was about 3,500 people.


Right. And so you might think, oh, that's like a pretty decent density, but, but they all live pretty close to each other, correct? Yeah. You're running a wireless network and that's a bit of a challenge.

Speygee (02:05):

Oh yeah, definitely. we have, I, I believe they consider it second growth Douglas Fir, but it is pretty mature at this point, <laugh> and hard to get through on around 40% of the valley floor. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and then our valley's fairly peanut shape, so you with, I forget what they call 'em, but they're like little I guess offshoots into canyons or fluffy areas that are really hard to get through. That's, that's pretty much the topography of our valley though. Another section is called the bald Hill area, and that's basically on a mountainous terrain with not a lot of trees at the very top, but the houses are underneath hills, so it's hard to hit <laugh>.

Christopher Mitchell (02:52):

Right. Well, and even areas that are easier to hit, you have too many homes based on the equipment that you're using, right. Oh,

Speygee (02:59):

When we kind of got into it we used around $2 million of CARES funding to build out a wireless isp. The frequencies we tried to use were 2.5 and five gigahertz five gigahertz we knew wasn't gonna get us very far because there's not a lot of line of sight. The 2.5, we, we were hoping was gonna kind of be the end all, be all solution for us, but we realized that the capacity of the sectors were pretty limiting only getting around 20 customers per sector, considering a sector cost about 7,000, $8,000. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it wasn't really efficient. I mean, everyone's telling us that that's pretty cheap, but <laugh>

Christopher Mitchell (03:40):


Speygee (03:40):

The wireless world. In the wireless world, yeah. But for us, you know, we don't really get this kind of money all the time. So it's a very large investment for us.

Christopher Mitchell (03:49):

Right. So we're gonna talk more about, about that specifically about you recently awarded a significant award from NTIA. And and I think as we're getting there, like I think it's worth noting that you are really I think moving aggressively into fiber optics now, which is something that, you know, we met at the first Tribal wireless bootcamp, we're working through 2.5 gigahertz. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I don't think that then we would've predicted that a, there would be that much money available and b, that you would be building a fiber optic network with it.

Speygee (04:23):

Yeah, I mean, that was one thing that we didn't really see how we were gonna be able to do something like that. We knew that fi even when we were building out the wireless infrastructure, we were doing it because of coronavirus, we were trying to use that cares funding to get into the home as fast as possible. We knew that that was gonna be a wireless solution, but we never thought that we would have this kind of opportunity. We thought it was gonna be a much slower process figuring out the sustainability of the network, how much, how fast we can grow with the customers we have. Because the Hoop Valley only has around 1200 households and a significant portion of them are below the poverty level. So finding that many customers to keep the staffing, the overhead the network up and build was gonna be a, a really hard task.

Christopher Mitchell (05:11):

And you, and you have a good base of that. So Lineage Jackson, your boss runs the public utility district, you mm-hmm. <affirmative> have extensive experience with utilities and managing them and in some cases making mistakes that you've learned from. In terms of we, we are joking cuz so many have learned that issue of like not properly recording where infrastructure's underground, correct?

Speygee (05:31):

Yes. Our tribe has whenever we have like leaks for like irrigation or domestic water, it, we have to pull out a map from like the 1980s to figure out where the path was. And it has store and I, I was born in 1989, so I don't even know some of the reference points on these maps <laugh>, but

Christopher Mitchell (05:51):

Like where Fred lived

Speygee (05:52):

Yeah, exactly. there was like, I forget what the, the store was a general store in this area that is just barren now. And I was just like, I didn't even know they had a store there. <laugh>. it's, it's pretty cool to look through the history through the maps, but it's definitely going to be a our N T I A grants primarily underground fiber. So doing some utility lookups is gonna be a big portion of our, our task.

Christopher Mitchell (06:18):

Yes. So let's, let's submit into that then. So you submitted a grant and I think it's worth noting the maximum grant was expected to be on the order of $50 million. Correct. And you, you have basically said, we want to really go and, and not just build a network, but make sure that it's really gonna benefit the tribe in multiple ways. So let's talk about what you proposed.

Speygee (06:39):

Yeah. Linnea Jackson. When, when the, when the grant came out, my boss Linnea, she gave me the opportunity. She's just like, go crazy. What what's your dream world situation for the tribe? And so obviously the first thing that come to mind was fiber to the home underground. Not because I have experience with underground fiber. I just had experience with some aerial fiber that we have in the area. And with the trees that we mentioned before, they fall every year, there's, and cut the line, there's fire, forest fires, wildfires that take out the line. Cars will hit the telephone poles and knock out the fiber. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we just, we figured something underground would be more stable based on the bootcamp that we go to. those experts that attend kind

Christopher Mitchell (07:20):

Of say more about those experts. No, I'm just kidding. <laugh>

Speygee (07:22):

<laugh>. so, so we learned from the bootcamp that underground was probably gonna be the best route. We assumed that before, but it, it was kind of confirmed there. so that was project what we consider like the main project of the grant application. Fiber Underground. Fiber Underground. Initially when we applied for the grant, we were trying to get some middle mile fiber to a regional build called Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative Kirby. which is going to be bringing I think a 10 gig circuit past the Yurok reservations town called which Peck. And we were gonna interface with the, that pop location there.

Christopher Mitchell (08:01):

And that's a project that I, I think it's worth noting cuz I know that Jessica Engel is, has been frustrating. What makes to point out has been going on for nine years now and is struggling in permitting hell and all kinds of other challenges.

Speygee (08:12):

I I don't know what went on with the project, I just know that that was what we felt as the Hooper tribe was that we missed out because that they initially came to us for that project so that we can be a part of it. And it, it felt like at least broadband in the past, we were just kept missing out. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and there was another opportunity to our south for the Middle Mile that we were trying to achieve called the digital 2 99. it's a state highway, California State Highway 2 99. It goes from Arcata, California, which is on meets into Highway 1 0 1, and then it goes east towards I five in Redding, California. And ultimately ends at a data center in Cottonwood mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And there was a company called Inyo Networks that had proposed that they wanted to route that line off of 2 99 and go through the tribal reservation and then go out and we're like, terets of internet was gonna be on this line.


And there was just two, I guess the environmental wing of our tribe was like, no, you're not gonna do that. we have protected plants before we had an engineering plan in place, like where the, what the method of installation or the route was gonna actually be. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, he, he had a a a very good reason to be like managing risk and he, he's like, this is gonna take, I, I, I gotta get through this. I can't like risk my project. So he rerouted the project to stay on 2 99. So in my mind, I felt we missed out again. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and then we realized that the California Public Utilities Commission kind of had our back through Karen Eckersley and Inyo eventually dropped the project. A company, I, I, I can't remember the, the actual company. I, like everybody just mentions Google and Facebook is two of the main funders to continue that project on. and Vero Networks was the contractor to build it. Karen is riding into, I forget what the legal document is, but in order for the permitting to happen to give us a two strand, I r u mm-hmm. <affirmative> from Arcata all the way to Cottonwood to the data center. So in our NTA asked long <laugh> a long way to get back to what our, our request was for the regional build was to build a middle mile project to the north, to Kirby and a Middle Mile project south to the


2 99 build digital 2 99 build. And when we applied for it in the curing process for N T I A, they said it was redundant and we couldn't apply for both. We had to pick one north or south. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, well, me managing risk, the Kirby Project being nine years in, I don't know how long it's gonna be to actually complete it. We decided to not go after Kirby or the digital 2 99 Middle Mile and build a communications tower on a location we call Jones Point. That would enable us to be proactive with our own funding, our own project, and control the situation. We may not be bringing in 10 gigabits or terabytes of internet, but it will sustain us until other regional builds are ready for us to interconnect with.

Christopher Mitchell (11:28):

So you have a wireless back haul link?

Speygee (11:30):

Correct. And with the goal of getting between four or five gigabytes into the valley to support the 1200 homes with 25 by three and the middle mile or, or the fiber to the home project, the electronics can do 10 gig to the home. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but we're, we're limited by that back

Christopher Mitchell (11:46):

Haul. You're doing sgs pun,

Speygee (11:48):

XGS pun. Yes. Yeah. that's, that's the, the goal for now.

Christopher Mitchell (11:52):

So you're also doing a data center though, aren't you?

Speygee (11:55):


Christopher Mitchell (11:55):

We, because you're not busy enough. Yeah.

Speygee (11:58):

<laugh> Well, we, we were thinking about, okay, what was the best situation for the tribe and we wanted to have data sovereignty and make sure that our data is, ours is private to us, we own it. so we decided to go for a, a project that would build a modular data center with 20 server racks. inside, typically on the reservation, I'm sure this is similar on others. it's an afterthought where you're gonna put your electronics at. So you f often find them in retrofitted bathrooms or in closets with not the proper ventilation or dust mitigation. So we wanted to build a presence on the reservation that accounted for how the electronics should be housed and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that was one of the primary goals.

Christopher Mitchell (12:45):

And you're, you're looking for things like physical security so people can't like bust in? Correct. Yeah. You're looking for like power that will never go out under any circumstance.

Speygee (12:52):

Yeah. AB power systems multiple HVAC systems, hot and cold aisles proper fire suppression for electronics. Our goal is to have each rack with specific access code cards so that we know who opened the rack and who, if, if we have tenants, for example, like if a department wants to be in one rack and they wanna secure it, they can lock down their rack.

Christopher Mitchell (13:14):

So then you, you were one of the earliest awards not in the, the first wave, but maybe like the second wave. I don't know how to characterize it exactly based on the announcements, but Yeah. But one of the ones I feel like we're, we're very enthusiastic about

Speygee (13:26):

<laugh>. Yeah. I hope, I mean, I was, I was super enthusiastic. It was the largest grant, single grant that our tribe has ever received. I mean, that's what I've been told. I haven't went through the books to see, but Right. I

Christopher Mitchell (13:36):

Was told Yeah. You don't even remember the general store. What do you know? Yeah,

Speygee (13:38):


Christopher Mitchell (13:39):

<laugh> <laugh>.

Speygee (13:41):

But yeah, so I'm excited. I, I don't know N T I A seemed pretty excited to also fund it, so

Christopher Mitchell (13:48):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, it's, it's wonderful. And we're, you know, we're planning on a tribal broadband bootcamp hosted in Hoopa Valley in May by you. So Yeah. we'll be bringing some, some people through to, to see how things are going there.

Speygee (14:00):

I don't think there's gonna be a much in terms of groundbreaking mm-hmm. <affirmative> like actually building out the data center or building out the fiber. we were talking with N T I A, we know that you know, the risk part, like what's, what's our, what's gonna make this project go for nine, 10 years? And it's definitely getting that right of ways and easements and which requires a cultural and environmental study to be done throughout a hundred miles of fiber. I I didn't mention that at the beginning, but it's, it's about a hundred miles to get this job done. And so that, that literally is touching every tract in like land tract in the reservation. And N T I A, even though we, we broke 'em out to projects, the data center, the tower, the fiber to the home,

Christopher Mitchell (14:45):

Even within that you have fiber to the home segments that are sort of their own little mini projects. Yeah.

Speygee (14:49):

They could be, yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but t i a is viewing this as one project it, and so until environmental is done on a hundred percent of the tracks that are be touched, we cannot break ground on any one segment of this project, of the mini project.

Christopher Mitchell (15:05):

So they both want you to hurry up and get going on it, but they also won't let you start on like a project in the north part of it if there's still environmental assessment going on in the south part of

Speygee (15:13):

It. Correct. And I think that that's a misstep on NTIA's part, I mean, I'm not gonna bad talk NTIA cuz they're giving us 65 million, but Right. I think

Christopher Mitchell (15:22):

That it makes your life a little bit harder, isn't it?

Speygee (15:23):

Exactly. Yeah. And, and if you want to avoid the risk of supply chain and shortages that we think is gonna happen due to the massive inflow into this sector, we need to get those items purchased as soon as we can. And pausing isn't really an option. Mm-hmm.

Christopher Mitchell (15:39):

<affirmative>, so we're, we're sitting here at the National Tribal Telecommunications Association yesterday. We had a number of presentations that you were like, man, I I wish I had gotten that when I started <laugh>. Yeah. You wanna reflect on any of that a little bit? Just like things that you wish you had known, like resources that you now know are out there that would've made things easier.

Speygee (16:00):

So some of the presentations that happened gave basic strategies to initiate like your, your thought process. And we didn't have that resource to us at the time. we, we definitely weren't considering partnering or giving up ownership of the infrastructure. We wanted to run this i s p ourselves, but that's not all tribes can take that route because they may only have 40 households to serve mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that's not a sustainable model for that reservation. Our approach was we believe the 1200 is enough customers to keep a small team on staff and sustain. And so looking at the PowerPoints, there were just business decisions, legal decisions, and overall strategy of network design. No vendor ever went into detail of how to achieve those steps. But just having those on a bullet point, like, okay, now it's time to consider this.

Christopher Mitchell (16:55):

Right. Have we done this thing yet? Yes. Have we had that conversation?

Speygee (16:57):

Correct. And that would've, cuz we're just kind of like building out where it hurts. Like, oh, we really need that legal agreement. We've subscribed like 30 people and they have no binding to pay us. Like no legal binding, just that, it's like a gentleman's agreement. We shook hands on it kind of thing. Right. And they can, they owe for like the installation, but we never developed the contract. So really if they didn't pay it, we couldn't come. Yeah. Make, make sure that we were, I guess, paid out appropriately.

Christopher Mitchell (17:28):

I feel like you were also a little early in the 2.5 gigahertz space, we're using some equipment and you developed some strategies I think in terms of you had a relationship with a vendor that got a bit rocky. Yes. And, and I'm curious, can you just give us a sense of like what you recommend people do in that circumstance?

Speygee (17:45):

I think our biggest mistake there was investing in our product, I guess at large scale. Like for us large scale's, three towers essentially. we were, we hired a contracting firm to come out and help us develop this ISP since we, you know, this is a new world for us. I think in hindsight it would've been better to also encourage the cambium, the engineers from Cambium to come out to see what's going on. For example, right now we're doing some testing with Motorola and from our lessons learned, we asked them to bring out a sector and, and just basically show us what their product can do. And their engineers came into Hoopa, they saw the trees and they had more realistic expectations or like, oh, we can't get into that area because given the density of those trees, cuz you know ideally you'd have lidar data on the topology of your area so that the, the, I guess the predictive model could be more accurate.


Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, well once they actually did that, they, they had more realistic expectations. And similar to Cambium, the cost is very high with Motorola and if I can't get enough customers on the system, it's just not gonna be worth it. So having those engineers come out and give us a honest answer to what their expectations are for their equipment, it it is just worth its weight. for our investments. Cuz we, we don't get money all the time. We're primarily grant funded. We don't have enough customers to really rip and replace. We don't, we're not a casino tribe. We don't have something to fall back on mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we can't make a mistake. So I appreciate that Motorola is coming out. it's looking like it may not work out simply just because of that, but it is, we wouldn't have never known. Yeah,

Christopher Mitchell (19:30):

Yeah. I was gonna say, you know, you know, now that you can talk to a vendor and say, Hey, like this is our situation, will you come check it out? And Yeah. You don't have to be a, you don't have to be like thinking that's inappropriate to ask them.

Speygee (19:39):

No, I I I I just figured like if they're not willing to work with us in that capacity, then we're not willing to work with them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and so a vendor, it it's, it's, it's a relationship. Like we're gonna, if we're gonna invest in a product, we, we want this to last for a long time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which means I'm gonna have to buy that equipment again later on. Hopefully a better version of it. But it, it's, it's gonna be a long-term relationship and if they're not willing to work with you day one, then I don't want to, I don't want to get into that relationship. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Christopher Mitchell (20:10):

So you had an issue with you know, being very early on in a product cycle mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, and, and going live with it in a time when, when you had to get people hooked up quickly. So ordinarily you would've liked to have bench tested it for a while. Correct. But but in this case you kind of weren't able to. And tell me about how you went back and forth and like, and you, you installed people based on what the vendor's requirements were. That didn't work out very well for some people.

Speygee (20:41):

Yeah. When we first started up with cambium, their engineers, because they didn't have the data the engineers essentially said, there's a signal that you have to look at. R S R P, keep it closer. The closer to zero the better If you the reading is in the negatives. So negative one 20, keep it under that. and negative 80 would be a awesome signal That would be like your perfect world scenario. So, but negative one 20, you should still be able to get customers at the 25 by three speed and it should be sufficient. Well, over time we, with the, as we installed about 30 customers, the data showed that that was not actually a good number to be based off of. So they engineers called us and said, keep it below negative one 15. We had already installed customers, now we have to go to their houses and tell 'em to remove, we have to remove their service. And some of these customers do not have the option for cell phone service. They do not have the option for Star Lake. This was their only hope. And I gave, I gave my word, like kind of my word that mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I was able to serve them. Right. These

Christopher Mitchell (21:50):

Are people that are like thrilled when they got installed.

Speygee (21:52):

Right. Oh, they, they thought it was the best thing, but then we kept getting calls like, hey, it keeps dropping. Hey, the signal's not strong enough for me to get I don't know, YouTube running or something. So, or my schoolwork, you know, <laugh>, we actually did have quite a few zoom concerns mm-hmm. <affirmative>. cuz in the LTE world, the uplink isn't really that fast and with degraded signal it's worse.

Christopher Mitchell (22:15):

And, and the issue of you having uninstall people comes back to this technology is not one where everything is really super isolated from each other. Right. So mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you were you were telling me one bad apple basically can bring down multiple other clients,

Speygee (22:29):

Correct? Yeah. So we we, we don't have the luxury of actually leaving them on because if we leave that one person on it, the number of customers per sector that we can get in a, in a system that it has all good apples is around 20 mm-hmm. <affirmative> the investment again is about seven to $8,000 for that sector. So 20 isn't a whole lot for us in order for us to kind of recoup that cost, but it, we are just gonna have to do it because it's the only technology that can get in there. If we have a bad apple, just one bad apple, we can only serve around 12 customers. So now the numbers are almost cut in half. Right. And so it, it just totally doesn't make sense. So yes, we have to make this one family lose their service, but we can bring on eight other families. Mm-hmm.

Christopher Mitchell (23:14):

<affirmative> and, and then you were able to collect all the data of the actually this asked you to go through it, like the, what data did you collect then to go back to the vendor to say, Hey, this is, this is the kind of the heartache and the, the visit, the, the, you know, monetary pain that's been caused even as we were following your directions? Yeah.

Speygee (23:33):

So the data that we collected was, we had a backlog of customers that wanted to sign up, but we weren't able to sign up cuz we were working out these bugs. I was able to show the revenue lost by not being able to sign these customers up in the same light. The customers that we're gonna have to take offline. I can show the revenue loss because you promised that this would actually work with these customers and now here's the revenue lost on that. we also had maintenance and truck rolls in order to troubleshoot. We were trying to make these work. We were realigning like totally doing like new installations for customers to try and get their dish in a better location based on new ev advice that we would get mm-hmm. <affirmative> on a rolling basis. And over time that advice, you know, you know, got us to some stable, but customers had to get dropped.


Some were able to stay. but we took that, that financial kind of burden that we took on and I think it was around $200,000 that we said we, we kind of suffered from. And Cambium turned around and gave us once they came out with a new what they call a SM or a CPE subscriber modules, what they call it, it had a higher gain. So we can shout from the tower, but they can only whisper from the home. This new dish allowed them to talk a little louder so that the connection was better established. But that was one step it got us to keep some of the customers on that we thought we were gonna have to get removed for the better of the network. But another thing that they did was just some licensing that they have for their, their software that they offering. And, and one of them that actually helped us out was for the, the BDC and the 4 77 reporting. Oh yeah. Was their CN heat application. since we used a hundred percent Cambium equipment, they had all our data there and, and we definitely slept on that requirement cuz we ha we we did it the day of

Christopher Mitchell (25:32):

<laugh>, you're not alone,

Speygee (25:33):

<laugh>, <laugh>. But the data that we were able to pull from that software was able enabled us to get it, get it through the finish line by, I think we finished at 6:30 PM that day. Yeah.

Christopher Mitchell (25:43):

<laugh>. Wow. But I, I think the larger message is often people again could, you can hold vendors to higher expectations and yes, you come with the data, a good vendor's gonna respond and, and make you whole or, or try to make you whole as best they can.

Speygee (25:57):

Oh. And, and definitely I, I, so I'm new to this, this I guess arena if you will, and I've been told that it's been really hard, but I think with the money that's being pumped into, into just the native country in order to solve broadband issues, vendors I think are realizing that they're gonna have to give a little bit more in order to get that investment paid off. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we as native people have huge buying, buying power right now and we need to take advantage of that and just respect ourselves. I, I like recommend to any tribe to not be like, it's kind of hard given the situation, but if you can take time to test for us, it wasn't just that we couldn't test, there was pressure from the tribe. But now that I'm like reliving it in my head, I remember that there was also pressure that we only had one year in grant funding mm-hmm. <affirmative> to sus to sustain the payrolls of the staff. We needed to get to a certain point for sustainability. Luckily we never achieved it. Acorn should have failed, but luckily Lina got a different grant that paid for our salaries for an additional two years.

Christopher Mitchell (27:08):

That's Acorn Wireless, which I don't think we mentioned. Oh yeah. So is the name of the the wireless division?

Speygee (27:13):

Correct. Yeah. So we are, we have only been alive due to grant funding if we didn't, we, we don't have the subscriber count. We only have around 200 customers right now, which brings in roughly 18,000 and that only covers like the overhead to bring the internet in and some staffing in operational costs.

Christopher Mitchell (27:34):

But you are, you are now venturing into the affordable connectivity program.

Speygee (27:38):

Correct. We have received the, the FCC approval. We are going going to send off the, the USAC email today to get the second part portion of that to get approved. we meet all the requirements so I don't see us not getting it. It's taken us a while to even apply for it just cuz we're a small team, we don't have a lot of time and N T I A was a big push. Right. And then, so we're always in this state of the grant's gonna run out, so we need to find the next thing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, once we were told that we were awarded NT I a, we are, the pressure's kind of off. If, if it was, if we did not receive NT I a in March of 2023, we would've ran out of funding and then it would've just been me <laugh>. Wow. I had to let go of all my staff and just Yeah. Ran an I S P alone. So that

Christopher Mitchell (28:28):

Doesn't sound, it doesn't sound like fun.

Speygee (28:29):

No. There's, there's always that financial pressure. Yeah. And, and I, I understand that struggle. Like we live and die by the grant right now and hopefully with this large influx of funding we can achieve sustainability. We've done financial models that proves we can mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but so I say hopefully, but one thing that, like the NT kinda threw a wrench was that in the beginning we kind of talked about how I can't do the

Christopher Mitchell (28:56):

You can't get going.

Speygee (28:57):

I can't get going until all the environmental and, and is is completed. Well the wrench that that threw in is we can't break ground maybe for a year and a half, which means the construction phase is also gonna take about a year and a half. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we only budgeted for two years in the, in the grant. Right. And so now we're gonna have to move money around to try and make that three years or possibly four years mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, and so there, it it's just continuously worrying about keeping up staff. Yeah. And even though we, we got a large award, it's still in the back of our heads. Like, we need to get this done as fast as possible, which is hard when you want to make sure the hardware's working properly.

Christopher Mitchell (29:38):

Right. <laugh>. Yeah. Well, I really appreciate this vision into what it really takes. Yeah. And what it's like on the ground.

Speygee (29:44):

One thing I wanted to add about N T I A is essentially the infrastructure projects we've mentioned. One thing that the Hoop Valley tribe is trying to do in the, specifically the public utilities district is that we have a construction arm and we want to get workforce training and development so that we can get skilled staff to maintain this system over time. The construction arm, we have planned to learn how to do horizontal directional drilling, trenching. They kind of do some of that already with the water side. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so getting them to key into the broadband infrastructure side would be awesome. We also have workforce development for fiber technicians that we want to that, that is in the grant along with project management, outside plant design and developing the tribal workforce, <laugh> is, is one of the goals that we want to achieve with this grant as well.

Christopher Mitchell (30:39):

Yes. I think that's the dream because I mean, I, I seem to recall both you Lina and Jessica kind of having this moment of, well we really hope we get the money when you're applying for it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but we get it. We don't know how we're gonna find enough people with the right skills to be able to pull it all off.

Speygee (30:56):

Correct. Yeah. No, it's definite.

Christopher Mitchell (30:58):

And you don't wanna just bring in people from Arkansas, right?

Speygee (31:00):

Like, correct. Yeah. Cuz they're just gonna leave, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and we hope that some of our tribal members do leave. Like they, we want to, we gonna build skills. We're gonna bring in tribal members that have the skill set to go move on to build other networks. we're not gonna be able to sustain the amount of staffing we are gonna up upscale to mm-hmm. <affirmative> the network's just not gonna be large enough. But if we can develop very high paying jobs for tribal members, that that's a win in our book. And it's, it's worth the investment and it's definitely key in the sustainability of the network. You can't get around not having the right workforce. Yeah. That, that's our, our, one of our primary goals out of this is to get the right equipment on hand and the right staffing on hand to maintain the systems after the money's gone.

Christopher Mitchell (31:47):

Excellent. Well thank you so much. Appreciate it. It's been great talking to Speygee.

Speygee (31:50):

I'm, am I gonna be on a podcast then?

Christopher Mitchell (31:53):

<laugh>? Yeah. Oh yeah. This is this is this is not just a podcast, but the longest running Premier Broadband podcast about community networks.

Speygee (32:05):

<laugh>. Nice <laugh>.

Ry (32:06):

We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muni networks.org/broadbandbits. Email us@podcastmuninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter, his handles at communitynets, follow muni networks.org stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. Subscribe to this another podcasts from I l Sr, 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 research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter@ilsr.org. 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, licensed through Creative Commons. This was the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening.