Connected Nation

Connecting continents: The Native Nation that's about to make broadband history

January 02, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 1
Connecting continents: The Native Nation that's about to make broadband history
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Connecting continents: The Native Nation that's about to make broadband history
Jan 02, 2024 Season 5 Episode 1
Jessica Denson

On this episode of Connected Nation,  we talk with the Chairman of the Board and Head of Development for Toptana Technologies - the first Native American-owned company that is about to build a new cable landing station.

Learn how the company is working to improve the quality of life for the Quinault Indian Nation and its neighbors by providing access to global internet connectivity and technologies. 

Related links:
Toptana Technologies website -

Tyson Johnston, Chairman of the Board and Head of Development for Toptana Technologies and Self-Governance Director for Quinault Indian Nation - 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation,  we talk with the Chairman of the Board and Head of Development for Toptana Technologies - the first Native American-owned company that is about to build a new cable landing station.

Learn how the company is working to improve the quality of life for the Quinault Indian Nation and its neighbors by providing access to global internet connectivity and technologies. 

Related links:
Toptana Technologies website -

Tyson Johnston, Chairman of the Board and Head of Development for Toptana Technologies and Self-Governance Director for Quinault Indian Nation - 

Jessica Denson (00:07):
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. I want you to ask yourself, what does it take to build a broadband or cable network at the bottom of the ocean? Imagine the challenges a company would face from intense water pressure to setting up equipment in a place we can't even breathe without assistance. Well, today I'm talking with a company that not only is about to build a new cable landing station, but it's the first native American owned company to do so, I'm Jessica Sen and this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica Sen, and today my guest is Tyson Johnston, who is the chairman of the board and head of development for top Tana Technologies and Self-governance director for the Quinalt Indian Nation. He's also the former vice president of the tribe, also referred to Quinn. As I said, Tyson. That's my second tribe. How did I do that to with the Nu Pronunciations

Tyson Johnston (01:13):
Sounded. You got

Jessica Denson (01:15):
It. Awesome. All right. Before we get into what the company is doing now, I would like to share with our audience a little more about yourself and about your tribe from your point of view, instead of an outsider's idea of what the tribe does. I would love to hear from you what you're doing and what the company is doing.

Tyson Johnston (01:34):
Awesome. Well, again, my name is Tyson Johnston. I am a proud citizen of the Cornell Indian Nation and currently I reside in Ola Washington, which is our principal village on the Cornell Indian Reservation. We are a coastal tribe that's located in northwestern Washington state, abutting the Pacific Ocean, as well as being on the Olympic Peninsula, and we've lived here in this land territory since time immemorial. We're an ocean people, we're salmon people. We live in the most southern region of the Aurora Borealis rainforest and have leaned into natural resources and other business opportunities to have a resilient economy in this impoverished region. This is a very resource lacking part of the state, and so the tribe itself is actually the largest employer in our county providing governmental services, economic businesses and seafood, timber and other retail operations as well as gaming in our area. Additionally, what we're looking to do now in this more modern time is the tribe is looking to creative solutions to address issues we're facing in regards to climate change as well as poor health outcomes in our community.

Tyson Johnston (02:51)
We just opened a new wellness center within our major population center to do wraparound services for folks that are suffering from chemical dependency, mental health and other addiction issues. And the other big push within our economic movement right now is to close the digital divide in our region after going through the pandemic and COVID-19, as well as just the necessity that's needed for governments and communities to have access to equitable digital infrastructure, the tribe has been investing as a policy objective for several years to bring fiber infrastructure and high quality infrastructure into our population centers, both on the reservation and near the reservation. What we've started to work towards and have established as its own separate company is a organization called Top Tana Technologies and Top Tana Technologies was formed to close the digital divide in our community, bring service to the underserved, and as well as bring new cable subsea infrastructure to Washington State for the first time in over 20 years. In addition to that and working in the subsea industry, we're also constructing and developing a backhaul network that will get data from our subsea station out to the data center campuses in Seattle, Washington and Hillsborough, Oregon with the ability to service fiber and bring new infrastructure to underserved counties in Washington state. So Grace Harbor County, Lewis County, and then up and down the I five corridor our overall.

Jessica Denson (04:27):
I have to admit a little bit of ignorance. I did know some of what Quinalt Indian Nation was doing for its people, but you really are doing a lot and hitting a lot of areas of need. Is that really part of your tribe's history or your culture there to really help one another?

Tyson Johnston (04:47):
Absolutely. When we do development in what we call Indian country, so on our near Native American lands or the companies that surround us, we don't like to pursue initiatives that are singular in nature. We think more from a cultural perspective collectively in nature. So what we do as one nation and one community has a ripple effect to our neighbors, and so what we're looking at doing with top Taana as well as with our other efforts in response to the climate crisis, the health crisis, and all of these other things that we believe are interconnected, we're looking a hundred, 150 years in the future. How are we visioning a better lifestyle, a better quality of life and better access to resources for our next seven generations? We're not pursuing any individual opportunity from a compartmentalized point of view, but really a collective point of view and also how are we fortifying our next seven generations and not just thinking in the immediate short term today for the next five years, 10 years, we're thinking in much grander scales and that how are we creating opportunity and infrastructure and initiatives that will outlive us and support the vitality of our next seven generations of Quinalt people and all of our neighbors that we share space with and land with here in Washington state.

Jessica Denson (06:10):
I think that's something that we could all learn from all of us if we could look forward into the future and really think on how we're impacting future lives. I also like that or just personally that you're talking about your neighbors and the importance of, I guess neighborly behavior or how does that work? I know that you were the vice I mentioned in the intro you're the vice president for the tribe. The tribal government operates in, owns its own sovereign nation, which just for the sake of our audience, can you explain how that governance works and how you work with neighboring areas that may not fall under the tribe's governance?

Tyson Johnston (06:51):
Absolutely. So there's actually 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States. We're specifically called out in the United States Constitution as part of the family of governments that exist both at the local, regional, state and federal levels. And so treaties with Indian tribes are right up there with other treaties that exist with other countries like Canada, Mexico, what have you, the North American NAFTA agreements, the economic and protection agreements that we have with other nation states. And so with Indian tribes like mine, we're a party to a treaty in our area that's known after it was ratified by Congress, the Treaty of Olympia, but it was actually first known as the Quinalt River Treaty of 1855. That was signed on July 1st between my ancestors, treaty signers and ancestors of the United States government. Back then, I think our negotiating party was Governor Isaac Stevens. It was really once that agreement was ratified and signed and approved by Congress is when that formal kind of government to government relationship form between the Quinalt Nation and the United States.

Tyson Johnston (08:03)
And so basically there's, along with Quinalt, there's all the other tribes that have their own sovereign status. We self-regulate our natural resources. We also set up and operate our own government, so we have our own judicial, judiciary, healthcare system, natural resources, healthcare, anything you'd think of that typically a state takes on under state governance. Tribes also do, but it also in some ways work at the same level with the federal government because our treaty is between the tribe and the United States. And so where that comes into play in this project in particular is we're one of four tribes in the country that have adjudicated rights in the ocean. So we have a western boundary that goes out 30 miles and under federal law, state jurisdiction actually ends at the three mile mark and then federal jurisdiction starts 200 miles out known as the exclusive economic zone.

Tyson Johnston (09:05)
And so ALT's in the middle of both of those. So we exceed the state's jurisdiction as well as go 30 miles west. And so how we service other communities though the tribes, we have a inherent trust relationship with the federal government. So we have authorities and a legal mandate to be consulted on when things affect our affairs. So natural resources, big developments, taxation issues, all of these things, education, if it affects our citizens, then Indian tribes must legally be included at the table to work cooperatively on those issues. That's not always been the best relationship. It's taken decades and decades to craft a system that we have now, and it's getting better all the time. And that's what I spent the majority of my career on as the former vice president and now as the self-governance executive director for my tribe. So I'm the one now that's the point of contact with all the prime and key federal agencies that work with our government now to support our service programs.

Tyson Johnston (10:12)
We actually championed this legal concept back in the late eighties early nineties, known as tribal self-governance, where instead of the federal government directly servicing us like a paternalistic relationship, we instead negotiate under intergovernmental compacts funding for those different services and now manage those affairs exclusively under our own sovereignty because we're the ones that live here, we're the ones on the ground, we're the ones that know how to design and develop programs that best suit our needs. And so it's under this new era that's been going on since the nineties called Indian Self-determination where tribes have really been stepping in and taking control over their destiny. And the theme of that is we need to do that exclusively without external interference, like continue to work in partnership, continue to work together because what we do benefits everybody, especially rural parts of America that are overlooked. Usually if Indian tribes are strong and Indian tribes are able to manage their affairs, it doesn't just positively benefit Indian people.

Tyson Johnston (11:16)
This benefits all of our communities that are on and near our land base. So like I said, we're the largest employer. We provide services, the state and federal government currently doesn't employment all of that. And so it's a win-win when Indian tribal sovereignty is respected and are given the ability to self govern. It has ripple effects that benefits our communities on and near the reservation as well as movements nationally when we talk about things like climate change and free prior informed consent under the United Nations declaration. And I apologize if you let a former tribal leader talk on stuff like this. We could literally go on forever and ever.

Jessica Denson (12:03):
Well, I think it's fascinating, so don't worry. You can go on. I enjoy it. I also am interested in, because we're seeing a lot of this Indian self-determination that you're talking about that especially with the broadband space, a lot of tribes or have either had decades of experience with running broadband or are just now trying to get off the ground. It seems like there's very few that are in the middle of that. Can you talk a little bit about how top Tana Technologies came about and how the Quinalt Indian Nation runs that in relation to things? I know you've touched on a little bit about what you do to serve the area, but how did that come about and how long has it been around and what are some challenges or some lessons that you could share with others that are trying to do similar kind of work?

Tyson Johnston (13:03):
Absolutely. So when we entered the space, it was for a lot of different reasons. When you look at Indian lands and tribal territory, there's a lot of confusion around jurisdiction. So a lot of times the way that's played out on the technology infrastructure space is you'll see fiber buried fiber that's built and connecting communities, and then right when it gets to the reservation line, it just stops because of these kind of questions around jurisdictional status and who owns what and what's the, I guess agency of authority or the agency of records. So a lot of complicated issues, but because of that's never really been addressed. If you look nationwide, there's a huge, I mean digital divide not only forming in the country and rural spaces, but in Indian country particular, it's even more concentrated because of that kind of jurisdictional questions that have arisen through the years when those buildouts have occurred historically in private industry or public.

Tyson Johnston (14:07)
And so what quinalt started moving forward, even before the pandemic had arisen was we have been increasingly under attack from cybersecurity threats. There's a need for better healthcare services for our membership. Indian people have some of the poorest health outcomes of any community population in the country, and we can't get good providers to come to our area. And so we've really been looking at telehealth medicine opportunities, but with our lack of adequate infrastructure, we aren't able to access those technologies. Our school systems, their curriculum is really outdated even once they're updated, require a big technology component to access updated units and updated information, and we're not able to get that consistently in our school systems. And so there were all these kind of systems level issues that we're seeing across the board and employment and healthcare and education. And so what the tribe started doing is building out where we could infrastructure to connect some of our communities to higher speeds.

Tyson Johnston (15:20)
Prior to 2016, the majority of our reservation was operating on this substandard DSL connectivity, only a fraction of what the FCC considers minimum standards. And moving ahead of that, the tribe invested millions of dollars in getting a fiber backbone connected to our school district on the reservation as well as our government buildings so we could have better access to cloud technology and speeds for processing here in our government programs. And additionally, we were able to engineer a microwave network that gets us a stronger signal that blankets the majority of our reservation now where we right now offer free wifi to every residence on our reservation. So the tribe currently pays for that and administers that program. But even with the tribe's efforts, we've only been able to bring speeds to our community that are about one fourth of what the FCC considers minimum level of service.

Tyson Johnston (16:26)
And then overall in all of our population centers over a third of our population had no access to internet and the other two thirds had substandard access. And so after we kind of worked through these solutions the best we could, we just have seen other tribal nations are seeing that we really need to have access to quality digital infrastructure for resilient communities, resilient economies, and being able to provide equitable services in our governments. And so that's when we really started exploring what opportunities out there exist for us to develop this infrastructure here and learning about it. We are a smaller population base, so there's not really a business case that we're going to see from private industry wanting to develop out here. We've actually had some good conversations with Verizon at different points in my career trying to get telecommunication services offered out here, but it's just been hard to work through jurisdictional issues and kind of get traction in that.

Tyson Johnston (17:31)
And so after just hitting roadblocks in these different arenas and seeing the limitations of our current technology, that's where we learned about the subsea cable industry and why that's not been coming to Washington State and what that new infrastructure could mean if it was brought to our region. And just learning more about it, it has a whole host of other benefits outside of economic and connectivity issues. Like I said, we're an ocean people. We regulate the Pacific Ocean. We're dealing with some pretty serious implications from climate change, more violent weather and sea level rise. And so these cables can be outfitted in a way where they could properly sense seismic activity on the ocean floor. So we would have better warning for our tsunami inundation as well as being able to get access to new data to help us understand what's happening to the ocean so we could have better management practices in our co-management agreements.

Jessica Denson (18:32):
That's amazing. I mean, the whole idea of a cable landing station and this subsea networks just is fascinating. I have lots of questions related to that, so since you brought it up, let's get into that one. And I appreciate take your time with any of the answers you want. It's so interesting to talk to you about how this works, how Indian nations are handling or tribal nations are handling this problem, and it really is. I talk to a lot of people from rural America and in my line of work working with Connected Nation, and it really is a lot of the problems mirror what you're saying, so I can understand and agree with that. Helping native lands have that access is critical to more than just Indian nations. It's also critical to other rural populations. So I just want to echo that point. So let's get into the cool stuff, the cool technological, the cable land in the station. I know it's going to be according to your website, open and neutral cable landing station and that, as you said, you already kind of touched on that. It's this cool technology that's outside of just general fiber optic. Can you expand upon some of that and explain how that works for someone like me who doesn't necessarily know all the technical explanations for this?

Tyson Johnston (20:03):
Absolutely, and by no means am I going to say I'm the largest expert myself. I've just been super alerting in the industry like everyone else and learning how to best understand leverage.

Jessica Denson (20:15):
Fair point.

Tyson Johnston (20:17):
But essentially 97% of all the internet on the planet, telecommunications information services, just general connectivity, it is made possible because of a complex subsea ocean network. So there's hundreds of cables which are no bigger than the size of a hose on your house, a water hose that literally are connecting continents, spanning the whole ocean and connecting continents that are connecting different data center networks, different backhaul networks to get data from one continent to the other and really fast. And so this subsea network is what's supporting all of the growth we're seeing and take for granted now. So even our refrigerators are starting to access data. We're seeing the big movement in artificial intelligence and how that is becoming more common. But increasingly, all of these new gadgets, gizmos and things that are supporting everyday way of life are all made possible because of these subsea networks that exist on the ocean floor.

Tyson Johnston (21:31)
And where top to comes in is we're developing a cable landing station that will house four new cables. The property itself has ability to expand to house up to eight, but would require a second cable landing station in the future. And what we're doing is bringing basically a new landing point option in the Asian and Pacific markets to access and get to critical routes that they need here in the northern part of the country as well as other parts in the Midwest. So developing out from Seattle East and then developing down from Hillsborough, Oregon and Portland South. And so there hasn't been any landing of any kind in Washington state in four years. These are very capital intensive business ventures that companies take on either big telecom companies, big internet companies, consortias of a lot of different companies working together, public and private. But what we're doing, we're not the actual cable owner. We're a connection point that will basically help these cables get their data where it needs to go and get it there quickly, as well as being able to service all of the communities that are on that route and near that route from our cable landing station out to the exit points.

Jessica Denson (22:53):
So is the cable landing station itself, is it all above water or is there a portion of the project that is under sea as well?

Tyson Johnston (23:01):
So the cables themselves are underwater, and then when you get to the nearshore environment, so about three quarters of a mile offshore, they start to come up and connect into the beach in what we call a beach manhole. It's a buried concrete unit that is like the exit location for the subsea cables. And then we will connect a fronthaul network from the cable landing station to the beach manhole spot down on the beach and get those cables up to the CLS or the cable landing station. And then in the CLS itself, there's data or technology that will convert the ocean fiber into a back haul network that will connect out to the different locations in Seattle and Hillsborough, Oregon.

Jessica Denson (23:50):
That just sounds so super cool. It's just interesting you mentioned, and I did have this in my series of questions, and you mentioned it briefly earlier, that these cables will help with some of the understanding the ocean and natural disasters. Are they also able to withstand those types of things?

Tyson Johnston (24:13):
Yeah, they're designed to be benign. They're really small. They don't require a lot of power to be considered operational, but the way that they're engineered, there's different sheath of protective coating, but again, it's not that big. You could almost wrap your whole hand around it. They're quite small, but they're very resilient and sounds like there's new innovations that come out all the time to make them even more resilient in the face of different activity. But they're definitely engineered in a way to withstand different things that happen on the ocean floor. A big concern in our area is Washington's coast is part of the Cascadia subduction zone, so there's a lot of seismic activity that happens in our area. We're due to be prone to a big tsunami event in the future at any time based off of historical trends. And so we had to be really mindful of that, of where we're constructing and actually have our property well outside of the tsunami inundation zone to limit any kind of risk aversion that industry might have in developing in an area like ours.

Tyson Johnston (25:30)
And again, that's part of the reason why it's been so difficult to get this industry in this region along with kind of the complex regulatory issues that come with it. Oregon and California are more prime for that because they have seen the importance of this industry. And now I think what the tribe is doing here at Quinalt is working with our state to do the same. So how do we create regulatory processes and systems that streamline some of this work and make it more feasible for industry to locate here because the need is vast. I mean, from everything I've seen in the international and national spaces that I've been able to travel to learn this industry, the need for this infrastructure is not meeting the pace of the development that's happening in other industries. So especially with the rise of artificial intelligence and how that's going to interplay with the different technologies we use every day, it's going to require a more resilient, a more diverse routed and just higher level infrastructure of sub C cables to really support these services and then allow them to be operating at the speeds that we need to be industry standard by the FCC.

Tyson Johnston (26:47)
It's also being affected by the move to 5G and 5G plus and all these things that seem to get upgraded and change year after year after year. It's really never ending this innovation, but in order to have this innovation and enjoy it in our home life, we're going to need capable high processing networks that will support all of this new infrastructure and technology that we'll use day to day in our everyday lives.

Jessica Denson (27:15):
So as you've been doing this research, you've really found this is one of the solutions to help make that possible, especially for the tribe and your neighbors, correct?

Tyson Johnston (27:27):
Absolutely. Right now, I mean, sometimes you see arguments that, well, why don't you all get satellite connectivity or some other comparable option, but those speeds are inconsistent. They also don't work in every geographic zone. And so when you look at a reservation like mine that's covered in trees covered in hills, mountains, we're not a plane. It's not going to be consistently offered here. And so if I'm going to be expecting my healthcare provider or a paramedic to lean in on networks like that or a school teacher or what have you, it's not one considered able to reach what the FCC considers minimum speed levels. But in addition to that, coverage is limited and inconsistent because of the topography and geography of our land base. So until there's some light year shift in technology or energy or something, it's the sub C network is where the majority of the internet of things is going to be living. So 97 plus percent of all of our connectivity is dependent upon the sub C networks as it stands today and for the foreseeable future from what I've seen.

Jessica Denson (28:46):
Well, if I just may make an observation, it seems to me that you really are thinking of that long-term, seven generations down, trying to be ahead of things, which I personally applaud. I imagine for the tribe that is very cognizant of the environmental implications. Can you talk a little bit about that, about keeping the ecological footprint to a minimum and why that is important to the tribe in particular, for cultural and even perhaps spiritual reasons?

Tyson Johnston (29:17):
For sure. Al and its resources are intrinsic to who we are. The land's part of us, we are part of our land. Every decision we make takes that value set into account. We believe our land should have rights. We believe that the ecosystems that exist in that land should have rights to like people. And so we think about that in any industry that the tribe considers pursuing. We've been approached by many different industries that just we feel would be harmful in the long run. We've had companies ask us to come and bottle water from our Cornell aquifer here. We've just said, no, that's not good for us. We've had folks that have wanted to bring crude by rail or crude oil extraction from our region, natural gas, and just all of these things pose big risks to the environment that could destabilize or cripple very sensitive systems.

And then in addition to that, what we're facing in regards to climate change is very real for us. We're living it just the wildland fire and the smoke that we see now has something that's never happened in my lifetime. The acidification of the ocean and the oxygen depletion that we're seeing huge die-offs of different species in our coast, not to mention invasive species and other species that we're seeing in the ocean that we've never seen in our area before because of rising temperatures. And so when we look at all of these different factors, we think very carefully about the industries that we want to tap into our access if it will have a ripple effect that will impact these other resources. And so with technology, even though the technology industry isn't perfect, what allows us to do is get access to new data, allow our communities to be more resilient by having access to the infrastructure and as well as giving us better access to tech that will better inform our management practices across the board, natural resources, health, what have you.

Tyson Johnston (31:27)
And so when we talk about the next seven generations and what we want to leave behind for them, that's what this larger strategy is, is how can Cornell Indian Nation better leverage its resources and better prepare for that future where things just seem to dwindle or becoming more vulnerable in the face of climate change? And not to mention, when my ancestors signed our treaty with the federal government, we seeded millions of acres away. So the state of Washington and Oregon could exist as states. And in exchange for that, there were things that were meant to occur in perpetuity, which is being protected, being offered education, being given an ability to have healthcare systems that support our unique health needs. And none of that has ever really been followed through on at the extent that was promised. And so we as Indian tribes and as Quin as one tribe, has had to subsidize that federal responsibility to actually bring the services at the level that we require them to be, to properly take care of our people. And so that's where we're approaching this. We have to look at solutions and look at innovation and look at ways that we could bring additional resources into our community so we could not only be resilient, but also meet those minimum needs that we negotiated in our founding treaty that established our relationship between us and the federal government as it exists today.

Jessica Denson (33:05):
That strikes me of how important that Indian self-determination is what you mentioned earlier in our discussion today, because if other generations aren't following through with promises made or even the same people, then you've got to take control of that at some point, right? You can't keep expecting people to follow through with things and not getting that. I would think that's such a frustrating thing for not just your tribe, but many.

Tyson Johnston (33:37):
It is, and it's something, I just came back from the tribal nations conference with the White House a couple of weeks ago, and every year under, not all the administrations mind you, but under this current administration, they work with tribal nations that I believe see it as that true kind of government to government level. And so right now there's a move at the federal government to give access to tribal nations resources, the access to federal capital that is kind of existing in a compartmentalized sense right now. And so it's a big onion that we're peeling back layer by layer as the years go on. I stand on the backs of giants. All the work that I've been able to do is just a blip of hundreds of years of alt leadership, amazing leadership that I'm just trying to build my small piece upon. And right now and where we're at today, I really believe that technology and digital sovereignty is really the next phase of what I see tribal nationhood moving into and tribal sovereignty moving into is in order to have resilient governments and have the most, a comparable form of governance to our brothers and sisters and other comparable government structures, tribes have to have digital infrastructure and digital access to digital technology, both at the local level and through all their levels of governance.

Tyson Johnston (35:07)
If we're truly going to be an equitable society and remain in pace with everybody else, it's just it's no longer a luxury anymore. Access to these information services and broadband is really a utility and should be treated as such, like water, electricity, anything else that's considered a utility, really.

Jessica Denson (35:28):
Yeah, I think I've had that conversation a lot over the last couple of years since the pandemic kicked off in 2020. Was that something that I would have to explain to journalists or outside people, why connected nation mission matters? Why it matters to connect people? I no longer really have to explain, because we can all understand that that is really an intrinsic part of what we all need access to be part of health, education, jobs, anything really. Right, exactly. So one question. I've heard a lot from a lot of broadband leaders or people in this space that there's a real people problem right now being that those trained workers, those that are trained in broadband technologies, are you finding that an issue too for top Tana as well, or are you tackling it by training some of your own tribal members, or how are you approaching that issue?

Tyson Johnston (36:26):
No, that is the absolute dream. This is a tribally, chartered and owned and operated company. We've had to work and formulate relationships within the industry to get expertise here, to be able to meet the required standards for it. But the long-term goal and vision of Top Tana is to fully train and educate our own local citizens to join this exciting industry that is long-term and good paying jobs. But even outside of the typical technology education expertise, there's even a need for a lot of different trades and trades fields. There's a huge deficit in different trades fields for things that could support this industry. I mean, it requires a large level of power, so electricians and people that could service the electrical needs of the facility are needed. There's a big cooling component of this. So air conditioning, all of that, there's a lot of construction and maintenance required things that are specialized in CLS type buildings. And so even outside of the steam fields, the technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, there's also a huge need in just trades that support all the ancillary things that allow a CLS and back call networks to operate. And so that's what we want to invest in with this. We want to make sure that we create a good workforce development strategy that gets our folks exposed to these fields very young and then work their way into exciting careers in technology or the trades fields that support technology directly and indirectly.

Jessica Denson (38:17):
I think everybody's grappling with that. I think that is a good approach. And it's interesting, you're the first who has mentioned the outside needs as such as electricians and people who can handle AC vac and that kind of thing. But yeah, that's an important component. What's the timeline for building the CLS? Has that been laid out or do you have an idea of when people start to see an impact on their services, anything like that?

Tyson Johnston (38:45):
Yeah, so that's always a moving target. Right now we're looking at breaking ground in the later part of 2024, but really it hinges on customer acquisition, getting a cable to one, select your site as a process, and then once selected, they have a multi-year development window because they're, like I said, laying a cable from one end of the ocean to the other end. And so after that, it was acquired. It's about a two to two and a half year process for a subsea cable to be permitted and constructed. And then after that happens is when we'd really start seeing the benefits that we're wanting to bring to this region by having those cables land at our landing site.

Jessica Denson (39:34):
Yeah, it would be nice if it was just a quick process, but all of the broadband stuff takes time because it's so much infrastructure. I bet you feel that more than anyone.

Tyson Johnston (39:44):
Well, luckily in my former roles and current roles, I deal with federal agencies and permitting agencies quite regularly. And that's again, what is a unique advantage of being a tribally owned and operated entity is we have a co-management role. We have a self-regulatory role or a co-regulatory role already. And so we're able to kind of influence and advocate for those processes to move as quickly as they're allowed to under different laws. And also just by going through this in the first round, we're really paving the way for future development additional cables in the future. There's things that we're working through now that will be much easier in the future since we're making these relationships, since we're developing new brand new regulatory processes in some sense. And also this is good for the industry overall. I mean, even outside of Ana, other folks, other tribes, especially other tribes, we want to be a model for other tribes that might want to consider this. We're wanting to pave the way for them so we could share our lessons learned, but also make that regulatory landscape less burdensome for them to go through so we could really get this infrastructure on our coast and servicing communities that are in the dire need for it.

Jessica Denson (41:06):
Okay. I could talk to you all day. I would love to get an update on where the project is down the road, but finally, I want to know what your personal hope is for this project and what do you really want the audience to take away from our conversation today?

Tyson Johnston (41:24):
My personal hope in all of this is I am trying to champion quality of life improvement for our people. Like I said, when we talk about it's easy to talk about things in factoids and figures, native American people have the lowest and poorest health outcomes of any population. For me, I've had a lot of family pass away quite young from things that I feel are preventable if they had access to proper technology for their healthcare needs. My nieces and nephews that are like my babies, had to overnight go to this online education format, and I felt like they personally weren't absorbing anything or give an equitable access to their education because we didn't have the infrastructure, the school didn't have access to the infrastructure to support online education. And as I've just seen these things happen, there's ripple effects that occur from that play out later in life when you want to get a job, when you go to college or when you want to bring services into communities like ours.

Tyson Johnston (42:32)
And so for me, it's less about the business component of it, even though we're starting a business. And obviously it's important, but for me, more than anything, it's how do we create equity and how do we bring better quality of life for our people? I think this is something that should be accessible everywhere in modern times in the United States especially, that is representing itself as one of the most modern countries in the world. For me, that will be made even more true when our rural communities and our tribal communities have equitable digital access to infrastructure that will realize our way better quality of life, the climate change stuff too. I'm seeing things happening here in our village and in our land that I've never seen before. We're having to relocate. I just came from a meeting where we're working on relocating our whole lower village out of our tsunami zone and having to create a new village from scratch and at a safer location, and how are we setting up that new community with access to infrastructure like this, but as well as just getting them out of harm's way. And so that's my driving factor in everything I do, Tana, and all the other hats that I wear in the tribe is how are we giving our future generations their best chance, and how are we leaving the world better than we found it? And I believe this closing the digital divide and bringing this infrastructure to our region is an important component of that and is something I will continue to champion as long as I'm able to.

Jessica Denson (44:14):
Well, I think those are some beautiful words to leave it on today. I would love to check in with you throughout the year, and as you get this project up and running, I would love to check in again. Just keep us updated. I really love that. I've really enjoyed talking with you today, Tyson.

Tyson Johnston (44:31):
I've enjoyed talking with you too, and it's been so amazing the different opportunities for people to allow us to tell our story and get to know us, and so absolutely would love to keep you in the loop and continue to update you as we move forward with this exciting effort. But I had a great conversation, felt really good about this conversation, and hope we could have another one in the future.

Jessica Denson (44:52):
Yes, let's put a pin in that and definitely do that. Okay. All right. Again, my guest today has been Tyson Johnston, who is the chairman of the board and Self-governance director for Top Taana Technologies, which is owned and operated by the Al Indian Nation. I'll include a link to the company's website and a description of this podcast. I'm Jessica Sson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.

Tyson Johnston Introduction
Quinalt Indian Nation development in its communities
Quinalt Indian Nation governance and working with neighboring areas
How Toptana Technologies came about
How their new cable landing station works
How the cable landing station makes it possible to connect tribes
The importance of keeping the ecological footprint to a minimum
The timeline for building the CLS
Key take aways from the conversation