Rural, Native Communities Partner With Telecoms for Broadband

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma have partnered with Nokia and NewCore to extend Internet access to tribal households, businesses and schools.

Broadband
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota and the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma have partnered with Nokia and NewCore to provide broadband and wireless access to tribal households, businesses and schools.

The partnership, which came about last year, looks to deploy 4.9G/LTE and 5G, to cover 12,000-plus square miles, providing broadband and Internet access to more than 15,000 tribal members.

To put these numbers into context, the Federal Communications Commission found in 2020 that around 628,000 tribal households did not have access to standard broadband in the U.S.

According to Fred McLaughlin, the general manager of Standing Rock Telecommunications, this gap is typically due to tribes having limited access to towers and equipment that provide broadband and wireless service combined with a lack of affordable options.

“A lot of people can't afford the initial startup costs,” McLaughlin said. “It's not really affordable.”

Albert Kangas, general manager and COO of NewCore Wireless, expanded on the issue saying, “spectrum is typically controlled by Tier 1 carriers. Because of this, it makes it difficult for rural communities to access broadband."

However, in Standing Rock’s case, the tribe, which purchased spectrum in 2007, had a network tower in place that offered 1G to 2G cell service.

Because of this, Nokia and NewCore were able to expand the tribe's service to 4G LTE, which is currently being used to provide high-speed Internet to tribal homes and businesses, enhance digital education and provide mobile connectivity to areas with limited coverage.

“Right now, there’s a limited amount of customers using the service,” McLaughlin said. “We haven’t marketed it yet to full capacity because we want to make sure our current customers are satisfied, especially schools.”

However, he said, once everything checks out, more customers will migrate over.

“Our hope moving forward,” McLaughlin said, “is getting the news out to other tribes that expanding broadband can be feasible and not a $2 million project. Tribes don’t have to give up or quickly pass the buck by leasing out to another company; they can be independent and do what’s best for them."

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Katya Maruri is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University, and more than five years of experience in the print and digital news industry.