Connected Nation

Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Four)

May 09, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 17
Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Four)
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Inside the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit (Part Four)
May 09, 2024 Season 5 Episode 17
Jessica Denson

 The Connected Nation podcast is back covering the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit in The Woodlands, Texas. The event serves as a hub of collaboration and innovation for some of the biggest names in broadband, all working towards a shared mission of closing the Digital Divide.

In our final installment of the summit, Jessica is joined by leadership from Comcast Texas, leadership from DigitalC, and a tribal broadband manager from the Choctaw Nation.

Recommended Links:
Broadband Communities Summit West

Toni Beck LinkedIn
Comcast Texas

Valerie Jerome LinkedIn

Rob Griffin LinkedIn

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

 The Connected Nation podcast is back covering the 2024 Broadband Communities Summit in The Woodlands, Texas. The event serves as a hub of collaboration and innovation for some of the biggest names in broadband, all working towards a shared mission of closing the Digital Divide.

In our final installment of the summit, Jessica is joined by leadership from Comcast Texas, leadership from DigitalC, and a tribal broadband manager from the Choctaw Nation.

Recommended Links:
Broadband Communities Summit West

Toni Beck LinkedIn
Comcast Texas

Valerie Jerome LinkedIn

Rob Griffin LinkedIn

Jessica Denson (00:08):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds with talk technology topics, and impact all of us, our families and our neighborhoods. In this special edition of the Connected Nation podcast, we wrap up our coverage from the Broadband Community Summit taking place just outside of Houston, Texas. In this episode, we talk with leadership from Comcast, Texas, also leadership from Digital Sea, a nonprofit working to connect Cleveland, and we talk with a tribal broadband manager for the Choctaw Nation about the unique challenges and opportunities for tribal nations. I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation. I'm at the Broadband Communities Summit in the Woodlands of Texas, which is just outside of Houston, and I just sat in and watched a panel on broadband and making it affordable for everyone. One of this panelists was Tony Beck, who's the VP of External Affairs for Comcast, Texas, and she joins me now. Hi, Tony.

Toni Beck (01:10):

Hey, Jessica. How are you?

Jessica Denson (01:11):

I'm good. I'm glad to have you have a little bit of an accent there. You're not Texas

Toni Beck (01:15):

Dp, Texas, dps, Texas.

Jessica Denson (01:17):

No. So is Comcast kind of divided out in the way that other big companies are where you have certain affairs people in the different states? We

Toni Beck (01:27):

Are, yeah. So we have the Texas region here, which is just down the street about an hour south down in Houston, which is where we are based, but we're expanding. We are doing a lot of work in Texas in general and in this particular area. So we have a lot of my team here from the Texas region, and we also have a lot of my team here from our headquarters out in Philadelphia. So we love these conferences. We were at the one in Dallas and love this one here. Important conversations,

Jessica Denson (01:55):

Comcast. Talk a little bit about Comcast as a company itself. In your point of view, what does it represent? I know it's a broadband company, but in general or telecommunications company? What is Comcast?

Toni Beck (02:06):

Yeah. Well, I'm going to talk about what Comcast is in the context of this particular conference because what Comcast does is truly connect people to what we say are those moments that matter most to them. So we are a media and technology company. You will know us as Xfinity, you'll know us as Comcast Business. You will know us as NBC Universal. You will know us as Telemundo. You will know us as Sky. So a sizable media and technology company with very strong presence in the local communities as well. So that's really where I come in, is engaging in the communities with our stakeholders right here in Texas.

Jessica Denson (02:45):

And as I mentioned, the panel was about affordability with broadband. There's a lot of talk about the A CP going away, the affordable connectivity program. Talk a little bit about your point of view, Comcast's point of view on this issue.

Toni Beck (02:58):

Yeah, there's no doubt at all that a CP changed lives and everywhere we went in this country, whether it be here in Texas or whether it be in other states across the country, we heard the stories about how it truly changed lives. So we are really proud to participate in the Affordable connectivity program. It definitely made a difference in closing the digital divide that work, bridging the digital divide, working to close that digital divide is part of Comcast DNA. So while it looks like the program is going to be coming to an end and customers are going to roll off a CP, we definitely have our customers back. So we aren't going to put the progress that has been made at risk. We are going to keep on keeping on. We've got a lot of options for those current A CP customers, and we're going to keep working at it.

Jessica Denson (03:52):

One of the things that I thought was very interesting about the panel was that how many groups are now really backing this and understand that having access to these technologies is important from Comcast point of view. You did mention that you have a wide range, Xfinity, NBC, universal Telemundo. From your point of view, how critical and important is it to have that in people's lives?

Toni Beck (04:16):

Yeah, it's definitely the build piece of things, but it also beyond the build piece of things as well. So the build piece of things is the access. That is the actual infrastructure that we talk so much about. But we often say, and we see this in reality, is people are not going to adopt what they don't see value in or that they can't navigate, they don't know how to use. That's beyond the build piece. So as a company, we are definitely focused on the build piece. We are also equally focused on beyond the build piece of things.

Jessica Denson (04:52):

You were talking about that with the trainers, right? Explain what that program was.

Toni Beck (04:56):

So we all know of people. I mean, if you have a grandma who has grandkids who are tech savvy, that grandma is going to want to know how to use her device, and we just lit up one of our lift zones in the Kingwood Community Center, just down the street, and I talked about the lift zones and the panel. These are our areas in community centers, in parks and rec centers, in nonprofit organizations where whether you are a customer or not a customer, you can come and get access to free reliable wifi. We are also starting to do digital skills training in these lift zones. We have 1,250 across the country, and we are starting to see that having that access is one piece of it, but how do we provide the skills training as well? And we just did this absolutely magnificent session for seniors, and they came in and the one came in and she just wanted one, just wanted to know how do I create my email?


How do I talk to my grandkids? So talk about changing lives. The other example I'll give to you, the day before we opened our Kingwood lift zone, we opened a lift zone at US vets. And we know that a large number of our military community, our A CP customers, so we are very, very focused on those folks. If you go to a veteran serving nonprofit where we have a lift zone, their needs are very different. For them, it's about accessing their healthcare benefits. It's perhaps about how do I apply for a job online? So that's the work that we are doing is helping individuals one by one to navigate their computer, navigate the internet, and then partnering with nonprofit organizations to also do that work in the community.

Jessica Denson (06:52):

So in these lift zones, as you are calling them, do you set up a computer lab? Is that what it is? Where they could do this training? Yeah. So you actually provide that for the community? That's fantastic.

Toni Beck (07:03):

Yes. Yeah, we provide the cute computer lab. We sometimes we'll put our own employees to work and they love to do it because that's, talk about connecting with the community, talk about really getting to where, whether it's your customer, potential customer or just somebody who just needs to learn something about their device. It has made such a difference for our own employees. I mean the stories that come back when they're doing the training for them too, just as much as for the person who's receiving the skills, it's as well life-changing for our employees who are actually providing that training.

Jessica Denson (07:38):

You could really see the human touch of that and the impact of your work. Everybody wants that in their lives, I'm sure. So let's talk about the other side of things with bead. Texas got more money almost three times as much money as the next state, just I'm sure part of it's of how big it is and the number of unserved and underserved areas. How is Comcast working with state officials to be a part of that project or with state broadband office? Do you have a good dialogue with them? What's

Toni Beck (08:06):

Going on with that? I mean, they've done a phenomenal job. That's a massive task that they've had in front of them, and we just have nothing but gratitude for all the work that they have done and that they still need to do. We were actually just talking about this a little while ago, where do you begin? Yeah, and to your point, Texas is a huge state. The need in Texas is significant as well. And I think from our perspective, I'll just go back to we are focused on the build piece of this. We will participate in that program. We will build out to those communities who are underserved. We are already expanding in Texas, our own capital to use to reach communities in need. So excited to be able to make a difference in connecting these communities, but you do need to think about the build and beyond the build. It's one thing to lay the fiber and put the hardware in place. That's not where the job stops. You have to continue to invest in the network to innovate around the network and think about the customers that you have today and the customers that you're going to have tomorrow. And how do you serve

Jessica Denson (09:19):

Both? And the technologies technology moves so quickly now, it's hard to imagine what kids that are just being born are going to be using.

Toni Beck (09:27):

It's crazy. Yeah. I mean it's a world of more, right? More devices, more usage, more streaming, more gaming. And along with that comes the constant need for investment and innovation.

Jessica Denson (09:38):

And what about future proofing? Is that part of the planning process when you do this?

Toni Beck (09:42):

Yeah, I think it's debatable whether any network actually can be future proofed.

Jessica Denson (09:47):

That's true.

Toni Beck (09:48):

So as a company and as a provider, and it's something to be considered is you have to be able to keep your eye on trends. You have to see around those corners and plan ahead for what you know is coming down the road. And that at Comcast is what I think we do really, really well.

Jessica Denson (10:07):

It sounds like you love your job. Is that true? True. Love our job. Love our job,

Toni Beck (10:10):

Yes. How can you not? How can you not, because it isn't just about the connection, it's about so much more than just the connection.

Jessica Denson (10:17):

What would you like to see in the future, five, 10 years down the road?

Toni Beck (10:22):

Yeah, I mean, I think what we'd love to see is no one get left behind a place where everybody has that possibility of a future of unlimited possibilities.

Jessica Denson (10:35):

Okay. Tony Beck, who's the VP of External Affairs for Comcast, Texas. Thank you so much for joining me today and talking

Toni Beck (10:41):

With us. Yeah, thank you. Thank you.

Jessica Denson (10:43):

I am standing with Valerie Jerome, who is with Digital Sea. She's the chief marketing and communications officer. She was just enjoying her coffee and people watching, and I decided to find out what Digital Sea was about. Welcome, Valerie.

Valerie Jerome (10:56):

Thanks, Jessica. Glad to be

Jessica Denson (10:58):

Here. Really appreciate you jumping in. I know I kind of snuck up on you there, but talk a little bit about what digital C is. It is a nonprofit and what it does.

Valerie Jerome (11:10):

Sure. So we like to say that we're a nonprofit technology social enterprise. That's long, but we were founded in 2015 primarily to bridge the digital divide. At that time, we offered digital skills training. Since then, and through the pandemic and onward, we've evolved into a full fledged internet service provider. So we are building, deploying a citywide network in Cleveland, Ohio. So with the support of public dollars, private dollars, philanthropic dollars. So we've started the build out and the service will be a hundred megabytes up and down.

Jessica Denson (11:45):

Yeah, I got

Valerie Jerome (11:45):

You. The service will be a hundred symmetrical, and we're offering it to Cleveland residents at $18 a month.

Jessica Denson (11:52):

Oh wow. That's a deal. And I know you told me that you'd been with the company for one year now, right? So you're still a little new to the company, however, do you think that the digital skills training kind of helped identify a need that Cleveland really had a need for another ISP to help?

Valerie Jerome (12:09):

Absolutely. So in Cleveland, we're one of the most under connected or unconnected cities out there, according to the data. I didn't know that. So there's definitely a need, and as a nonprofit technology, social enterprise, we're here to meet that need to connect the unconnected, but also to provide affordable, quality service to all of Cleveland. So

Jessica Denson (12:29):

How has it been working in a city where there was this void of some sort that was a need for low income families? How has it been working like that?

Valerie Jerome (12:40):

Right. So our elected officials and our city leaders and partners have definitely identified that need, and they identified that there needed to be a solution and alternative solution to what was currently available in the city of Cleveland. So there was an RFP process, digital C applied for the opportunity through the RFP process and we were selected. So it's been a very interesting and engaging process going through securing the RFP, identifying the technology we're going to use, raising awareness of the technology with our residents, and now actually marketing the internet to the city of Cleveland. At the same time, we're still doing our digital skills training and adoption services.

Jessica Denson (13:19):

Yeah, that's a lot for a young nonprofit especially. So with all of that, how do you manage the digital skills training side with the building of this new ISP?

Valerie Jerome (13:32):

So we're deeply rooted in the community. We say our network, and when we say network, we think of it broadly with our internet network as well as our training network. So we are deeply rooted in Cleveland. We like to say this network is built by Cleveland. For Cleveland, more than half of our staff live in Cleveland, and we have a director of education and outreach. So she heads up all of our digital adoption and training services where we have partnerships with the school district, with our local health centers for telehealth, and we invite people into our headquarters. So we're the only internet service provider head that's pretty cool headquarters in Cleveland. And our headquarters is a coworking space. So it's very collaborative, and we have open mic nights and we have concerts, and at that time, we can connect with residents and we can also sign them up for internet. And

Jessica Denson (14:17):

So it really is very community based if you're doing concerts and things like that.

Valerie Jerome (14:23):

Yes, we absolutely center community in this community based network.

Jessica Denson (14:28):

I've never been to Cleveland. What should someone who's never been to Cleveland know about Cleveland? Why should I go there?

Valerie Jerome (14:34):

Well, we fully embrace the underdog mentality at Cleveland, so we like to think of ourselves as gritty and resilient, but we're on the upswing. We have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame where there's a lot of development around downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. So I would say come and experience some of their culinary offerings and experience downtown. And more importantly, meet the people

Jessica Denson (14:59):

And Cleveland Rocks, right? That's right. Is that the same, the song? Yeah. What do you hope comes from this work that y'all are doing now five, 10 years down the road?

Valerie Jerome (15:11):

Well, first we want to see a connected Cleveland. Our mission is to bridge the digital divide for good. And that for good means several things. But we want to see a connected Cleveland with residents who can fully thrive in the digital age, whatever that means to that resident. And hopefully this could be a model for other cities to replicate so that more and more people can be connected.

Jessica Denson (15:34):

Why don't you expand upon that, what you said for good?

Valerie Jerome (15:37):

Right. So we're a nonprofit, so we're mission driven. So there's that for good. And we also want to say we want to bridge the digital divide for good, so there's no longer a divide.

Jessica Denson (15:46):

That's awesome. Anything else that you would want people to know about digital C?

Valerie Jerome (15:54):

Digital CI say we have great leadership. They're bold, unapologetic, authentic, and Joshua Edmonds. So I feel we're very fortunate to have him at the helm along with our COO Jose Valdez, who really takes our ideas from ideation to innovation to execution. So I feel like it's a really great time in digital seas history, and I'm excited about what's next.

Jessica Denson (16:19):

That's fantastic. So one last question and I will let you go. You've been, we're at the summit, the Broadband Community Summit. It's been going on for a couple of days. What are some key takeaways for you?

Valerie Jerome (16:31):

It is fascinating to see the landscape of opportunity out there in broadband. So it's really opened my eyes to what other municipalities are doing, what's happening in the rural areas of the country where opportunity lies ahead with technology, with software, with collaborations, with funding. So it's an eyeopening experience.

Jessica Denson (16:54):

Well, thank you so much, Valerie Jerome with Digital C, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. I appreciate your time with me.

Valerie Jerome (17:01):

Thank you.

Jessica Denson (17:02):

I am sitting at the Broadband Community Summit. We are in a room where the panel on tribal broadband was just held and sitting with me is Robert Griffin, who's with the Choctaw Nation. He's the tribal broadband manager. Thanks for joining me, Robert.

Rob Griffin (17:18):

Yeah, glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me to this.

Jessica Denson (17:20):

So tell us a little bit about what this panel was about today.

Rob Griffin (17:24):

The panel today was to help carriers, vendors, internet service providers, know more about how to approach talk with and support tribal nations across the United States.

Jessica Denson (17:36):

And what were some things, was there anything surprising or you just felt, yeah, all of the panelists were right on. You guys are on the same kind of wavelength, I guess.

Rob Griffin (17:48):

Yes. I think that we all agree that government bureaucracy is difficult to deal with, that we're all trying to do way too much at one time, but there is a methodical way to do this, and as long as we communicate with each other and with other partners, then we can make this happen.

Jessica Denson (18:06):

So tell our listeners a little bit about the Choctaw Nation, just the nation itself. I know in Oklahoma there's 39 different tribes. Am I correct?

Rob Griffin (18:17):

You are correct,

Jessica Denson (18:18):

Yeah. And Choctaw Nation is the biggest, is that also

Rob Griffin (18:21):

Correct? We're actually the third biggest. There's several large tribes in the state of Oklahoma. There are 39 federally recognized tribes, and we're one of the, what they call the five civilized tribes. So ourselves, the Muskogee Creek Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Seminole Nation, and the Cherokee Nation. And the Cherokee Nation is the largest, we're the third largest. And the Chickasaw Nation is the second largest, and the Navajo Nation is right behind that.

Jessica Denson (18:48):

So our Choctaw, though, the tribe is across the US though, right? Or that is the base of Choctaw Nation.

Rob Griffin (18:58):

Our headquarters is based in Durant, Oklahoma. We currently have a population on our reservation of about 118,000 people. Of those 118,000 people, approximately 85,000 people are members of the tribe nationally. We have 200,000 members across the United States and the world. And so we work hard to communicate with our membership services, all the programs that are available to our members. We also help work with the communities that are out there. We put together finance programs to help small towns run better. We help them with their taxes. We write checks for playgrounds, fire stations, build roads and bridges. We do a lot besides just having our gaming operations.

Jessica Denson (19:43):

So the average person that is not native, they may not understand that Choctaw Nation is actually a sovereign nation. And so does that help when it comes to the tribal broadband side of it, or is there a good and bad to that?

Rob Griffin (20:01):

Right. So a sovereign nation is a federally recognized nation. We have to go through a process to become that way. There are some tribes that are only state recognized operations or nations, and then there are some other organizations that are tribal but aren't recognized in any shape or form. So what that means is that we're not beholden to the state laws in the sense that we have to report everything to the state, and we work as a federal entity, but in some cases, we do coordinate very well with the sheriff's department, the police, the emergency services. We also have a lot of coordination at the state by having our people that go to the State House, to the United States Capitol work in dc. And so we have 12,000 employees at work, mainly in southeastern Oklahoma, but approximately 30% work remotely across the United States.

Jessica Denson (20:56):

I appreciate you explaining some of that because I think there's some, it's easy to misunderstand or just make assumptions that aren't true when it comes to tribal organizations and tribal nations. So for you, why do you think it's important for the Choctaw Nation to be a part of the development of broadband within its borders?

Rob Griffin (21:21):

So all the reasons that broadband is needed at anybody's house is what is really needed on our reservation as well. And so we know it's important to be good partners. We have a contribution of about a billion dollars in value towards the state of Oklahoma. So just because if you're not a native from Choctaw Nation or other tribal nations, we recognize that we want to work with you because you're part of our community. And so our families live there, we work there. We are based on faith, family culture, and that's the way that we run our business. And when we think about that and all the things that we're providing for membership services, for support for the communities, it is just the right thing to do for us. And that's the way that we live. That's the way that we've always lived for several thousand years. That's the way we operate.

Jessica Denson (22:13):

Faith, family. I love that you put that in there because in the modern world, you don't see a lot of that necessarily when it comes to running business. That's just my own opinion. But having said that, you were telling me before we began this interview that there are a couple of projects that are happening now and that you're hopeful for. You want to talk a little bit about that?

Rob Griffin (22:35):

Sure. So we have built a small fiber optic construction route that will serve about 175 homes. We also have our 2.5 EBS spectrum that we're providing service on. And then just recently we won a reconnect award for Reconnect four, which means that we can serve another 600 or so homes in the area right next to Hodgen. And so this area is very remote. There is no internet coverage out there whatsoever. And the school before we built fiber to it had no internet connectivity. They were relying on a dish satellite or a huge satellite to connect to the internet. And when you're trying to educate 300 kids, that just doesn't work. And so we really did take it upon ourself to build out that fiber route, and then we felt like we have another area next to it, so we need to build that area out as well. We're also working on A-T-B-C-P application within NTIA. That just means that we're going to be able to build out another thousand homes in the near future.

Jessica Denson (23:34):

In the long term, what would you like to see happen with this?

Rob Griffin (23:39):

I think that what we have to think about in tribal nation land is that we do work in generations. We're not thinking about three years or five years down the road. We are literally thinking about decades down the road. And so in the fiber optic world, once you build a foundation, a route that has the capacity to carry a lot of data traffic on it, then that's something that you can count on having for 30, 35 years. And if you think about being able to provide services and expand upon that for the next 35 years, that's something that really makes a generational difference. And when we think about all the carriers that are there, we know that carriers are companies, they go through transitions, they will have leadership changes. And so we have to make sure that we work and understand how they're operating. Because if a carrier goes away, then we will have to fill that gap. If someone just doesn't do the job, then we have to hold them accountable. And that's a lot of what the broadband office does at the Choctaw Nation.

Jessica Denson (24:39):

How does it feel when you do connect someone to see that the impact of that opportunity and that they can access those resources, especially the school that you mentioned that had to feel pretty amazing to see that you could impact those lives like that?

Rob Griffin (24:56):

Having good internet is something that I've always taken for granted. I've been in this industry for a long time, and it's always one of the first things I look for when I move to a new location. And when you look at a home that has never had good internet coverage and the first time that they get it and they start to realize and understand what they can do across their tv, their computer, the laptop, the iPad, or any other device that connects, they start to understand that they have this world that has been open to them. And so one of the things that happens on tribal land is that typically the population age goes up because the children leave. They go to high school, they go to college, and then they go work somewhere else and they can't work in the area that they grew up on.


So now with the high-speed internet coming into the nation, we're seeing people start to keep their families there. Kids are staying in the area. If we can provide jobs through the build out of networks, help support other carriers, then we can increase the financial base of the organization that surrounds the Choctaw Nation. We also help our members get access to availability of jobs for all the things that are coming. And so we also coordinate through many different ways on social media through our newspaper, through just regular calls back and forth every single day. And so it is, it's a huge impact, and we know that we'll see the age of the population start to come down. We know that the education will get better, that people will have better access to healthcare. And so when you start to know that that's what's going to happen over the next 10 years, 20 years, the rest of your generational life, then you get to feel like, okay, it's okay to get up and work hard today. I feel good about going to work. I'm not tired. If I am tired, I can take a nap, but I'll get back up and do my job again.

Jessica Denson (26:48):

How important is that to keep the family together? You mentioned that family and faith were two of three. There were three for some reason. Culture. Culture, thank you. Well, culture really feeds into my question. It's important to keep youth around to remember the culture and share those stories. And am I right with that?

Rob Griffin (27:08):

It is. And so one of the things that we saw with Covid is that we were in the midst of producing our dictionaries for our language. And so our first generation speakers are around 85 years old, and when Covid hit, they were no longer able to come to our headquarters. They were no longer able to teach the second generation speakers. And communication became more difficult because you have people that have never connected to the internet trying to connect to the internet, or if they didn't have internet, they just couldn't do it at all. When you think about making sure that your language survives and that it's well documented that it's backed up. And then we are also now in the phase of implementing that in our headquarters activity or employee activity so that we're able to have simple phrases, but we also have free classes for participants to learn every single week on how to make the right pronunciation, the meaning. It's a difficult language to learn, but if you spend time on it like anything else, then you can really understand the culture.

Jessica Denson (28:12):

I think that's an important part of this that people sometimes miss. Also, it opens up the Choctaw Nation, so the world could learn about it, wouldn't you think?

Rob Griffin (28:23):

It does. And so if you think about internet connectivity, if you're a member or if you decide that you want to learn the Choctaw language, you can sign up for a class and it doesn't cost you anything, we're happy to do that every single day. Now, when you think about learning the language and how it applies, it's a little bit like how Yoda speaks. So nouns and pronouns are reversed, adjectives are different. We don't have words for every single thing that existed. And so we also have a history with the Choctaw Code talkers. So the Code Talkers were actually the first language native language used in World War I. Oh, wow. And so they were able to keep the messages encrypted in the Choctaw language. The messages were not intercepted and transcribed, so we were able to send and receive messages to help win World War I.

Jessica Denson (29:15):

That's amazing. I didn't see, I didn't know that that's something

Rob Griffin (29:18):

I could learn. And most people don't. I mean, we have a great video on it. We developed that this year, and it's even more important that not only the Choctaw Nation, but 33 other nations participated in World War ii. So we had all this communication going back and forth that no Germans or anyone else could take and decipher. They just didn't know how. And if you think about the impact that's had on the United States of America, you wonder why we're not working harder to get more internet out to the rural locations.

Jessica Denson (29:50):

Yeah, no, you're exactly right. Why are we working harder for the rural areas? So I had to wait a minute to talk to you today because after you were done with your panel, it was like you were the rockstar. People were lined up to talk to you. Why do you think that is? Are they just ready for your knowledge base to help them, or what is it that they were so gravitated to you for?

Rob Griffin (30:11):

I have no idea. I travel across the country and I get the opportunity to learn a lot from other people, and all I do is pass that information back and forth. I really do have a passion for helping other tribal nations, not just our own. And fortunately, I work at a place where I get to do that, my activities, to come down here and be on the panel, to be able to participate with all kinds of different folks from all different areas and telecommunications. I get to do that because my group, my organization, the Choctaw Nation helps support me doing that. Now, that's just not me in this position. We do that everywhere. And so for instance, we had a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and in the state of Oklahoma, we have an organization called the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, and they have an organization called Leadership Made Oklahoma that began in 2016.


So every year they worked through about 10 to 12 tribal nations, and they spend a day at each tribal nation learning about the history and culture of that nation. And so last week, I got to go participate in that. I'm a graduate in 2017. And so when you do that, you find out more about tribal nations, you find more about other people, and a lot of what we do is really impressive because a lot of folks in our organization, they are city leaders, they're council members, they're mayors, they're people that give their time to any organization that they think that they can help. And we spend a lot of time not really doing our day-to-Day activity, but participating to help other tribal nations and other communities get better at what they're doing. That's just the way that we're built. We can't think any other way.

Jessica Denson (32:03):

That's fantastic. What have you gotten out of the Broadband Community Summit? Is there any key takeaways for you

Rob Griffin (32:12):

To be able to meet so many people that I call the tip of the spear, that know what's going on in the broadband world. They have the best ideas. Every time I come to a conference, I see something new that I didn't know about. And that's great because I've been doing this for over 20 years now, and I'm seeing that iron sharpens iron, that the products are getting better, the service is getting better, the vendors are getting more competitive. So you start to see a lot of capabilities out there. And so my job for many tribal nations and my own is to be able to go out, ask all the questions, understand what's going on in the broadband world, bring that information back, pass it along, and then help understand how to position ourselves for the next decade and generation.

Jessica Denson (33:01):

Alright. Is there anything you want to add that maybe you hope for the future in the long term? You talked generational. Is that really for you what the end game is, to see the generations connected?

Rob Griffin (33:15):

Absolutely. I think that if you have a good internet connection, you have a lot more options than you can ever understand. Now, there's controversy sometimes that people think that if they didn't have an internet connection, that they wouldn't have all the bad things that come with the internet, but you wouldn't have any of the good things either. And the connection is just a pipe. That's all it is. What we're trying to do is make sure that it's a good, reliable pipe and that you can use that to work your social media, get educated work from home, which is a huge thing. We don't know what's going to happen in the next 1, 2, 5, 10 years. We may all be working at home again in some point in the future. So what I'd like to know more about our government is can we get more money to do this? Because we mentioned today in our panel that we are oversubscribed, so we have many people filing applications to build out broadband networks, but we don't have enough money to fund all those applications. So it becomes a very competitive situation. And we know that if we're running in a five to one over subscription application ratio, then for every nation that gets a grant, four did not get a grant.

Jessica Denson (34:34):

We know there. So you're leaving out a huge swath of people.

Rob Griffin (34:37):

We're not getting everyone that we need to, and that's just not right. And everybody, it's kind of like when somebody has something tragic happened to them, they didn't realize that they were going to have something tragic happen to them until it did. Now, when it does happen to them, then they get into, okay, how can I fix that? Well, we need to be in a proactive state where we're trying to fix it now no matter what, we need to be in a state where rural communities have multiple options, multiple pricing options, multiple connectivity options to be able to find out what works best for them. It goes back to the old days that if we only have one option, then they're going to be able to control how we connect into the world. If we have multiple options, then we get to choose.

Jessica Denson (35:27):

Yeah, I think we'll leave it there because everyone at Connected Nation, I think we would agree with what you're saying. So thank you so much again. I've been talking with Robert Griffin, who is the tribal broadband manager for the Choctaw Nation. Thank you so much, Robert, for your time. Yako, thank you. Tell us what Yako key means. Thank you. Oh, okay. You just did. Thank you so much, Yako. You got it. Yes, you got it. All right. Thank you so much. That wraps up our coverage from the Broadband Community Summit, which took place in Houston. There is an upcoming summit taking place in October 30th and 31st. It's called Broadband Community Summit West. That's because it's taking place at the San Diego Convention Center in California. We will have a link to that convention and the description of this podcast. I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for joining us. If you like what we do, please follow us on connected or find us on social media.


Toni Beck joins
Valerie Jerome joins
Robert Griffin joins
Conclusion + Outro