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Tribal Broadband Bootcamp
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A new chapter in state-Tribal relations is being written as the importance of robust and reliable telecommunication becomes all-too-apparent, especially in the face of more frequent extreme weather events. For the first time, a Tribe in California is building high-speed Internet infrastructure in collaboration with the state, thanks to the resilience of the Hoopa Valley people.
Tucked along the Trinity River in the northwestern corner of the state, the Hoopa Valley Reservation is located in a rural and heavily wooded region that spans over 89,000 acres, home to over 2,500 Tribal citizens. Last summer, the area was ravaged by closely-timed wildfires and thunderstorms, followed by massive landslides that collapsed into the region’s riverways, including the Trinity River, a sacred body of water for the Hoopa Tribe.
As the river turned to mud and dead fish began to wash up on its banks, alarmed residents had limited means of connecting with one another, getting timely information about what was going on, or contacting emergency services. That was because of a hidden casualty of the wild weather: the Tribe’s wireless Internet network, which sustained severe damage that not only hindered communication but also extended the time it took to assess the damage.
With Tribal broadband advocates working to establish better Internet connectivity across Indian Country as the NTIA directs unprecedented federal investments to expand broadband infrastructure, the Center for Indian Country Development (CICD) will lead a timely virtual webinar on tribal broadband next week.
“Nuts, Bolts, and Cables: Opportunities in Tribal Broadband” is being hosted by the CICD, headquartered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University.
Slated for October 16th from 2:00-3:30 CT, the webinar will bring together researchers, advocates, network operators, and federal policymakers for a conversation about the challenges and opportunities for Native Nations working to improve Internet access and broadband infrastructure.
The third webinar in a series on "Cultivating Native Economies in the 21st Century," next week’s session will give participants the chance to hear from panelists and presenters with a wealth of expertise in Tribal broadband. Dr. Traci Morris (Chickasaw) and Geoff Blackwell (Muscogee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Omaha), leading experts in tribal broadband policy, will speak on a panel about current opportunities in the field.
NTIA Awards Another $74 Million Under the Tribal Connectivity Program, Opens Second Round of Funding
In another set of awards to connect communities in Indian Country to high-quality, reliable, and affordable broadband, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released over $74 million to help fund Tribal Broadband projects across the country.
The Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP), part of the Biden administration’s Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in the spring of 2021 and administered by NTIA, allocated nearly $1 billion in the first round of funding to support connectivity access and adoption initiatives in Tribal communities; namely, “broadband deployment on tribal lands, telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion.” And while that may seem like a sizable investment, over 280 applications totaling more than $5 billion in funding requests were received before the first 90-day application window closed in September 2021, a reflection of the even larger need Tribal Nations have than what the federal program offers.
In November of 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funneled another $2 billion into the program and extended the timeline for broadband deployment, turning the program into more than just a short-term pandemic response. Since then, NTIA has been announcing awards on a rolling basis with the program having distributed over $1.7 billion to 198 Tribal entities so far. The funding covers investment in new infrastructure, as well as upgrades and network planning.
The sixth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit kicked off today in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, bringing together Indigenous community members and leaders; network operators; researchers; and policymakers to focus on how Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada can expand access to fast, affordable, and sustainable Internet connectivity.
Organized by The Internet Society in partnership with Connect Humanity, the four-day, in-person summit will feature workshops, presentations, lightning talks and panel discussions on a range of challenges and opportunities Indigenous communities face as they work to establish both digital equity and digital sovereignty for tribal citizens.
In announcing the summit, Sharayah Lane, Senior Advisor of Community Connectivity at the Internet Society and advisory committee member of the Indigenous Connectivity Institute, captured the meaning of the moment:
The Internet Society has been organizing the Indigenous Connectivity Summit since 2017, but it has always been our goal to transition leadership of the event to the Indigenous communities themselves. Partnering with Connect Humanity and the Indigenous Connectivity Institute will further the goal of developing community-led solutions that will bridge the digital divide for Indigenous people across North America.
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.
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Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
An effort to foster digital sovereignty and support tribal citizens to build and operate their own broadband networks in Indian Country is gaining momentum.
Responding to the challenges of COVID and the opportunities created by the federal attention and investment into tribal broadband, our own Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, prominent Tribal broadband advocate and 20-year veteran behind the Tribal Digital Village, Matt Rantanen - along with a loose coalition of public interest tech people - have organized a series of trainings to help tribes tackle building and running networks for themselves.
These Tribal Broadband Bootcamps build on the work of Internet Society's North American chapter at an Indigenous Connectivity Summit. The first Bootcamp, held in the summer of 2021, brought together nearly two dozen tribal citizens from five indigenous nations who gathered in southern California to learn how to build and operate wireless networks using their FCC license for 2.5 GHz spectrum access. The second bootcamp, held in March 2022, focused both on wireless and fiber networks. The third bootcamp, slated for next week, will be the first on the sovereign territory of the Yurok Nation in northern California.
Tribal Connectivity Front and Center
Each bootcamp is a 3-day intensive learning experience that invites tribal citizens to come together with experienced network architects, managers, and policy experts to walk participants through what it takes to build a local broadband network, how to operate as Internet Service Providers, and handle the associated technical challenges.