The Lac du Flambeau tribe plans to build its own internet service with a federal grant

The Lac du Flambeau tribe plans to build its own internet service with a federal grant

By Trevor Hook | Wisconsin Public Radio

Residents of the Lac du Flambeau Band of the Chippewa Lake Superior Reservation have struggled with low internet speeds for years. So the tribal leaders took matters into their own hands.

The tribe this year received a $25.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The tribe plans to use the funds to build an independent broadband system that would be installed and operated by the tribe.

The Federal Communications Commission defines an Internet service as “broadband” if it offers download speeds of 25 megabits per second and at least three megabytes of upload speed. The tribe’s chief operating officer, Dion Reynolds, said a majority of tribesmen are unable to achieve those speeds with “near-connection speeds.”

Reynolds and Emerson Coy, the tribe’s director of planning and development, recently appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” to detail the hurdles ahead and why the tribe has taken this unusual step.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Archer Kent: How many households on the reserve will have access to this broadband service?

Emerson Company: Our goal is to connect 2,300 households to it. And if there are other companies on the way, we will also. It will take us a few years to contact them all, because it is a very big project. We live in an area where there are many lakes. We are 12 miles by 12 miles — 144 square miles — one-third of which is water. We bypass the lakes. It’s not like in the city (where) everything is a housing estate. We have our work cut out for us, but we have planned everything well.

KAK: What is the timeframe for your Internet service to be operational?

THIS : We hope that something will start to be operational next fall, but we cannot guarantee it. It depends on whether any obstacles occur on the way. It takes time to do it. We would work with the townships, the county, the state on these right-of-way issues. If we have to, we can get an extension. We have two and a half years of funding to complete it.

KAK: What will broadband internet do for workforce development and economic development?

Dion Reynolds: We went to do surveys and we talked to different people about the importance of the Internet. There are actually people who (say) that living in the area is almost something they don’t want to do because of the internet speed and because their job depends on it. People who normally couldn’t work in the area because of internet connections… some of them are remote workers where they can actually work from home. This is how the world is going right now. But in an area where our internet speeds aren’t capable of that, it kind of takes away from the possibility of living in this most beautiful area here and being able to have those jobs.

KAK: You talk about tribal sovereignty, digital sovereignty, and supporting tribal citizens to build and operate their own broadband networks on tribal lands. What could Wisconsin do to advance and support digital sovereignty?

DR: I think having more (dialogue) with different tribes directly would be an important step in building this relationship between government and tribal governments. The grant was not readily available when we started. We started about two years ago. We contacted different organizations and some of them would have had a conversation with us, but they weren’t as meaningful as we hoped. One of the things that would really help would be to start with this meaningful conversation and find out what the tribes are really trying to accomplish in their own areas.

KAK: What does digital sovereignty mean to you?

THIS : It means a lot, because it puts us in the driver’s seat. And we don’t have to depend on other companies worrying about our prices or what we do and who we offer Internet to. We’re going to do our own thing, which is really an amazing adventure for us.

This story was produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and is republished with permission. See the original story here.

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