Connected Nation

In their own words: A new perspective on internet access in America from Tribal Governments

May 24, 2023 Jessica Denson Season 4 Episode 15
Connected Nation
In their own words: A new perspective on internet access in America from Tribal Governments
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this espisode of Connected Nation, we get a new perspective on internet access in America – from the point-of-view of Tribal Governments.  A group of Tribal respresentatives share what they’re already doing to connect reservations across Oklahoma AND what support is needed from federal and state governments. 

Jessica Denson, Host (00:05):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.


On today's podcast, we get a new perspective on internet access in America. From the point of view of tribal governments, the Oklahoma Broadband office took a break from, its let's get digital Oklahoma Broadband tour to host an internet for all event in Tulsa on May 24th.


During that event, they convened a panel of five tribal representatives, a discussion that we're bringing to you in its entirety. So this group of Native Americans can share in their own words what they're already doing to connect reservations across Oklahoma and what support is needed from federal and state governments.


I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (00:59):

Okay, we're gonna go ahead and get started. Um, so I'm gonna first ask, um, everyone on this panel to please introduce yourselves. Tell us what tribe you're from. Um, if you wanna give us a fun fact, tell us your favorite ice cream flavor. Uh, that'd be awesome.


Hi guys, it's me again. <laugh> Charlotte Wetselline with the Cheyene and Arapaho Tribes Judicial Branch Court administrator. And what is your favorite ice cream? No, no, no. Chocolate <laugh>. Hi again. Caressa James Cheyene and Arapaho Tribes. Um, I am an Ohio State fan,

Speaker 3 (01:36):

Uh, John Doba, uh, Kyle Broadband coordinator, and I love Vanilla

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (01:41):


Speaker 4 (01:47):

Okay. Micah Wyatt. I'm with the, uh, tribal Utility Authority for Muskogee Creek Nation. Uh, I prefer birthday cake ice cream.

Speaker 3 (01:56):

Shay. I am Zachary Haja. I'm the acting sector of the nation for Muskogee Nation. Um, I manage one of the many things, um, including the Tua fun fact. Um, I'm br brushing off the dust for my tennis rackets, and I'm playing a tournament this weekend. I played college chemists. It's been about

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (02:10):

Eight years. That's awesome. Okay, perfect. So on this particular panel, we are going to focus on the tribal component of all this broadband expansion. Um, as you may or may not know, but a a a third of our state is tribal land, um, which we are pretty unique in that here in Oklahoma. So we wanted to give, um, some of our tribal members the opportunity to chat about what they're doing for broadband, um, and their nation. But then also if there's anything that the state can do, ISPs can do, as we continue this build out, we wanna have an open dialogue about that. Um, so my first question to you all is, are there any particular challenges regarding coordination between either tribal community to tribal community, tribal community to state tribal community to I S P, um, that you're all experiencing? And if so, do you have any requests, any suggestions on solutions? How can we help you?

Speaker 3 (03:21):

So we actually have, um, many people on the eastern side of the state might be familiar with the five tribes and the Intertribal Council, the five tribes. We've had a excellent working group, um, since as long as there's been federal funding available to tribes. And it's been, you know, quite refreshing to be able to work through all these things between our governments. Uh, we're very similarly set up, but, uh, talking about these very technical and advanced, uh, federal funding opportunities, it's been great to bounce them off of other, other tribes and knowing, you know, what we're all doing jointly is, um, has helped coordinate everything moving forward. But, um, my, our our suggestion for a long time has always been, um, that we should probably be working towards a tribal working group in general. Not just for the five tribes, of course, but all tribes throughout the state.


Um, and oftentimes on the tribal side, we find it easier to, uh, communicate with each other than, uh, non-tribal entities before we move forward with, uh, non-tribal partnerships. And, um, giving that technical assistance across the board, um, with different, different capacities between tribes has been one of the most fruitful things that we've experienced working directly with other tribes. But as we expand to, uh, work with the state more and our non-tribal partners, uh, particularly in the rural areas, there are a number of things that have occurred recently with the oml that I think is really kind of creating that, um,


I guess at the local and grassroots level, that coordination between tribal governments, municipal partners, and then, um, the independent isp. So it's been quite a work in progress, but I think all the things that we have going on currently with oml and, um, the intention, uh, to hopefully set up some sort of tribal working group throughout the state, uh, for all the broadband affairs and whatnot, um, those should all, you know, combine and coordinate together at some point. And I know it's also in the works, but, um, some of the challenges of course we face, um, are going to be the different capacities of every tribe. And not just every tribe, but all of our, uh, corresponding municipal partners. Not everyone has all the technical people on staff from engineers, um, or even people that just know how to run A I S P. And so, um, as we worked through and putting together different planning and projects internally, you know, within the Muskogee Nation, and then seeing, like I said, what our partner tribes are doing, um, that's helped us kind of troubleshoot a lot of the issues that we've run into so far.


And so for anyone that's struggling with that, um, I think it's, you know, your, your best bet is going to reach out to people that have already started resolving those issues that you might be facing. And, you know, the only way that happens is through communication,

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (05:51):

Broadband communication, what a novel concept. <laugh>. Anybody else wanna touch on that?

Speaker 5 (06:01):


Speaker 6 (06:06):

Okay. Uh, yeah, we, um, are in the phase of trying to reapply for the second round of T C B P or TB c p, and well, in this effort, uh, we've been, um, working closely with the Oklahoma broadband office, and they've been very supportive in our efforts in trying to assist us in wherever we're at within the, the, the efforts that we're putting out right now. And, uh, we want to work with the other tribes in our area, which is the Wichitas cas, Delawares Apaches, Fort Apaches. And to make sure that when we do apply for this next round of funding, that we're not over overlapping in our application process because that's, uh, brings up a red flag. So, uh, it, uh, we are still in the, in the efforts of trying to pull everybody together and kind of formulate a coalition so that we can strengthen our voice and our efforts to try to, uh, make sure that we're gonna get the fundings for what we intend to do with, uh, these grant monies.


And that effort, uh, is still ongoing. And I would encourage any, any other tribes throughout Oklahoma to be able to come together and, and maybe eventually we'll have all 39 to formulate a coalition which strengthens our, our, um, our desires to be part of being able to put out, uh, broadband as an I S P, as a CIC ili. And so that's, uh, what our aim is. And, um, and I think, um, being able to communicate with the other tribes and, um, get real involvement is, uh, only gonna better, better our, our efforts as well as, uh, you know, provide, get the service out there that's needed in these, these rural areas.

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (07:48):

And just for the audience, if you aren't familiar, the T B C P program is a program through N T I A, which is the Tribal Broadband connectivity Program, which specifically is funding that goes to tribal nations to connect tribal households. So just a little background. And so I guess with, with the Shiner tribes, um, collectively our tribe, um, holds the largest, um, tribal land base in the state of Oklahoma. So we are, um, west of I 35, north of I 40, so the northwest corridor, we don't have any other tribes in our area. It's just the Shinar tribes. And so we are more rural. And so getting connectivity to, um, tribal members, people who reside within our communities, within our jurisdiction is, you know, one of the push to, um, you know, get them connected. Um, right now, you know, that, that deals with like healthcare, um, 9 1 1 accessibility, um, education, connectivity issues, you know, those are within a tribe that we are kind of faced with right now.


Um, being able to partner with other tribes and build coalitions is something great, and that's something that we would like to do, you know, as a goal. Um, but then also working with the state too. So, um, that's the, the background for Schal Tribes, um, like the Cloud Nation is, is doing, you know, they're writing for grants to help, um, build their infrastructure and maintain it. And that's the idea with our tribe. Um, strategically, I don't have the, our exec plans and what we're doing, but that is the idea, um, for the Shinar Pal tribe. Perfect. Okay. So moving on to our next question. Um, so I know a few of you had mentioned, um, coalitions that are being built. Um, what successes have you all seen come as a result of either partnerships between other tribes or, um, state government, federal government, outside nonprofits? Um, can you all speak a little bit on some of the successes that you've seen through partnership?

Speaker 4 (10:07):

Yeah, I think, um, one of the things that I have noticed in a lot of the development that we've had with respect to broadband is that there has been much more open conversation. Uh, there's been much more willingness to understand the uniqueness that is tribal governments and tribal enterprises. And we have started to have a lot more meaningful conversation amongst the various tribes, in addition with the ISPs and, and various people who are playing roles throughout this entire, uh, process. And so having that open conversation has allowed people to, uh, also coordinate their efforts, making sure that like, uh, the showman's my right had said there's not a duplication of efforts here. Um, and it's also normalized a lot of these discussions as well. It, it's taken a lot of the ambiguity out of those conversations so that, uh, people can start to approach this from a collective standpoint rather than a competitive standpoint.

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (11:11):

I love that. I think as we've seen with broadband specifically, there's so much money and there's enough of the pie to go around to everyone, and everyone wants to see this successful. I don't think that there's anyone who wants to see this fail, and we all know that we have one shot at doing this, and it's much better if we do it together than try and do it individually.

Speaker 3 (11:34):

I would just add quickly to that or those comments that it's been great to work with, you know, a coalition of tribes, uh, because, you know, when we see one of our, uh, partner tribes successful, it helps us troubleshoot things in our application that we could change for our application to, to then be accepted, uh, at a later date or a different round of funding. So, uh, it's been great to, to help work through because there are things that we all bring to the table that we might have advanced knowledge, the others may not. Um, and from there we can kind of catch each other up. So that's been another successful, uh, part of the, the coordination and collaboration that that has occurred so far.

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (12:11):

Yeah, that's great. Um, are there any actions, um, that can be taken, be it from other tribal entities, from state or local government, from private business? Um, is there anything that we can do to reduce barriers as you all continue, um, building out this infrastructure, teaching the digital, digital LI literacy skills, the workforce component? Um, is there anything that we can do to make this process easier for you all?

Speaker 6 (12:43):

For where we're at right now, the college tribe, we are, um, making our second attempt in this application process and we weren't prepared, um, to be able to go in and, and do all the, get the right grant right in place and do the technical writing. And so these kind of meetings are very helpful in, in helping us to, um, uh, what Oklahoma Broadband is doing, broadband office is doing, is reaching out, saying, what can we do, what can, how we can help you. Um, it's been, there is another office that, uh, I guess we're headed by Margaret and Isabella mm-hmm. <affirmative> for, for tribes to reach out to, to help with that application process. And so that is helpful. I just wanted, uh, the tribes to know that, that that kind of assistance is out there. And so that is very helpful so that we can get familiar with it.


And we're not, uh, and you haven't done this before, so you're intimidated by the process. And a 92 page, um, um, application is pretty intimidating. So, uh, there is things that can be done and that, and the help that, uh, has come from the Oklahoma Broadband office, such as, uh, the cons, consultations, we, which we had earlier this month, they actually come out and visit with you and, and try to find out what it, what your needs are in order to keep going forward and being prepared. And I think being prepared is gonna be the key for when this nofo comes out. Uh, instead of waiting for, uh, it to come out and then try to figure out what to do. Uh, we are trying, we have already gotten a grant writing in place with experience and, uh, the past that has been successful with other tribes and getting funding.


Um, we've also brought on some technical assistance for, uh, the, for people that actually do this, to be available to the grant writer and help with, uh, some narrative that has to be put together to know what it is, what your demographics are. So it's pretty detailed and, and we're trying to make the perforations to be, uh, ready for it when we come out because it is gonna be competitive and we do want to be able to make sure that, uh, we work out at the, you know, uh, at, at the front of the line or, you know, close to the front line so we can, uh, get reviewed and get funded and get busy. So, but, uh, I think that's something that's really key to be able to get those who, uh, are wanting to participate to be prepared for it. And we want to encourage other tribes to be prepared for it.


We want to encourage other tribes to participate and know what it is and what's involved in it and how can affect their community and as well as their, uh, their, their economy. So it, that, that has kind of been hard. It has been hard to be able to reach out to the tribes and get their interest and get a representative, cuz some tribes don't even have an IT department. And I think that's, that shouldn't stop them from trying to participate. And, uh, the OBO has been very helpful in trying, trying to, um, uh, assist in getting involvement and, um, and so we're still in that effort. Uh, we're still in that phase of trying to get people out there or get people to get involved and, and, uh, and it hasn't been easy, but we're out through trying yet, so we'll keep going forward.

Edyn Rolls, Oklahoma Broadband Office (15:56):

Anyone else?


<inaudible>? No. Oh, maybe <laugh>. Um, so I think with anything that you're trying to build and to be successful in, you've gotta build relationships, whether that's, um, tribe to tribe or state. I know that the Oklahoma broadband office has been really great for us. Um, it's an institute that we reach out, they ask us for information, we're getting information from them. You know, that's kind of broadening our spectrum with the Shinar tribe. Um, especially what we're doing with our training, um, site that we have. And so building upon relationships and understanding that, you know, we're open, you know, if anyone wants to come and discuss any type of level or facet that you guys are interested in, maybe that the tribe can collaborate with, you know, just trying to build upon those relationships. I think that's very, very, very important, um, moving forward, especially with any, any office throughout the state. So, um, I just wanted to throw that in there. That's an unfortunate reality that it's all about who, you know, <laugh>. Um, and as we continue this, definitely those partnerships are going to be very important. We have such a short timeline and a lot to do, um, and to get done. Um, so I, we have time for a couple of questions. If the audience has anything that they would like to ask on a, from a tribal perspective,

Speaker 7 (17:30):

Uh, when you coordinate or, or say you're gonna sit down with, uh, an I ask you what kind of information do you want from an ip? What are you, what are you looking for? What, what, what, uh, kind of information do you want to hear about?

Speaker 3 (17:55):

Well, it really depends on the intention and capacity of the tribe that's applying or the entity that's applying. Um, when we first started, uh, this process, I was just telling Micah, I I was thrown to the wolves, to the FCC starting in 2019. Um, and at that time we weren't set up to be our own isp. And it wasn't until probably the last two years that, uh, with the tribal utility that we've established, um, that that route became more of an option. But certainly there are other tribes that are more or less advanced than that. And so it just depends on what their intention is. So, um, many tribes began this process without the, uh, intention or ability for themselves to be an i p. So their relationship with an IP is, uh, technical in nature in that they're vertically integrating their staff to be able to, uh, take over things at some point. And, um, that's probably gonna be across the board at the exception of, of a few tribes. Um, the practice in place typically is, you know, you, you work with an ISP who has the inherent knowledge and the capa uh, capacity to own and op or not own, but operate and manage the infrastructure until, you know, the recipient government or tribe, um, is able to take it over themselves. So, um, those conversations, you know, um, vary wildly, but it really depends on, like I said, the capacity of the, of the applicant themselves.

Speaker 4 (19:14):

One thing I would add to that too is the fact that this is not gonna be a one size fits all approach. Um, the, the problems that we have before us are something that's going to take a collective effort. And so coming to those conversations is really about what the definition of the relationship is going to be. You know, there, there may be options where tribes may be looking to actually build some of the infrastructure and some of these harder to reach areas, and then there may be other things where, you know, an ISP has a project that's teed up and ready to go and they just are trying to get to that, that threshold of the cost per pass to make that work. Um, there may be opportunities for joint ventures that there may be leasing opportunities, or it all really depends on what the actual project and accomplishment is that you're trying to get, uh, identified and, and solved. Uh, same thing with the workforce. You know, as the panel was talking about earlier, everybody is going to be dealing with the workforce, uh, shortfall whenever all of this money starts flowing and the projects get underway. And so, um, coming to the conversation, looking for any and every type of opportunity, knowing that every accomplishment is probably not gonna look the same, even if you're working with the same partner on across all projects.

Speaker 8 (20:41):

I kind of wanted to mention, kind of touch on, um, the gentleman here to my left. Just mention for us, here're in the Sheko tribes, we're in the northwest corridor of the state. We kind of, we have, when we mentioned largest land base, we're talking about, we have the largest amount of trust property in the whole state of Oklahoma. We cover almost 10 counties, the whole northwest corridor. So you gotta remember as ISPs, you know, like mentioned before, you know, there may be that opportunity for us to build infrastructure. Um, of course you always, you know, wanna work on those relationships with tribes. Tribes are always willing to work with you guys. Um, it's just maintaining, trying to get it, you know, just establishing those relationships. Um, the other thing is with us, for instance, um, we're so spread out. You know, you have bia, you have all those other factions when it comes to leasing that you need to also think of and worry, you know, also be willing to work with those relationships as well. And I know people sometimes, uh, forget that aspect of it. So definitely working with, especially a tribal nation like us in the Schwan coast corridor. I mean, we, we have those relationships obviously with bia. You know, those are something you would have to look at too. Developing <laugh>,

Jessica Denson, Host (21:59):

This is just part one of our coverage of the internet for all event that took place in Tulsa. In part two, we'll focused on a growing need to have trained workers who understand broadband infrastructure, maintenance, and other technical needs that come with expanding internet access. Learn why educational organizations are concerned that the federal rules around grant monies are not keeping up with the growing and immediate need and how they'd like internet service providers and workforce development groups to help. I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes of Connected Nation on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.

Panel introductions
Intertribal Council
Difficulty applying for funds
Building coalitions among tribes and others
Having meaningful conversations
How one tribe is coping with the red tape
This is not a one size fits all issue