The project will lay fiber optic lines connecting Towaoc to the broadband network in Cortez
Zoom calls dropped at tribal council meetings and students doing homework in parking lot hot spots are some of the results of outdated internet service in Towaoc, the capital of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in the southwest. from Colorado.
To help with the upgrade to broadband, the tribe received a $ 3.2 million grant this month from the Economic Development Administration of the US Department of Commerce.
The funding will be used to install fiber optic lines from Towaoc to Cortez for broadband access, said Bernadette Cuthair, the tribe’s director of planning and development, in an interview with The newspaper Monday.
“This first step is extremely important so that the tribe stays connected and is not left behind,” she said. “Like many rural communities, we don’t have the capital to do this, so this support is greatly appreciated.
Additional grants are being sought to help connect buildings to new broadband service, she said.
High-speed internet will increase access to distance learning and telemedicine, improve tribal government operations, help students – including the new Kwiyagat Community Academy – and open up business opportunities.
The investment is expected to create 33 jobs and generate $ 550,000 in private investment. A request for proposals will be issued for the project, and construction is expected to begin in the spring or summer, Cuthair said.
“Too many Americans, especially those who live on reservations and in tribal communities, do not have reliable broadband and high speed – if they are even lucky enough to have the Internet,” said Gina M Raimondo, US Secretary of Commerce, in a statement. Release. “In our increasingly interconnected world, the Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and this fundamental lack of access is an injustice.”
Accessing the internet means more than just opening emails and checking social media, Raimondo said.
“It means having access to life-saving technologies, economic opportunities, distance learning and countless other essential benefits,” she said in the press release.
Funding for broadband was provided by the infrastructure bill recently passed by President Joe Biden.
This law provides $ 65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the United States, with $ 48 billion allocated to the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create service options low-cost broadband, subsidize the cost of service for low-income households, and address digital equity and inclusion needs in our communities.
The project will help provide improved Internet access to residents and businesses of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, including the Ute Mountain Casino. Indian health services and behavioral health will also benefit, as will tribal government departments.
Internet upgrades are needed for the tribe, Cuthair said.
“It’s a little embarrassing when the tribe goes to an important Zoom meeting and is taken off the call. We lack information when the connection comes in and goes, ”Cuthair said. “Our internet service can be very slow at certain times of the day. Sometimes it times out just because everyone is logged in.
With more distance learning due to the pandemic, connection to the internet has become even more essential for the students of the reservation.
The tribe has set up hot spots in Towaoc parking lots so students can go online to do their homework.
“It’s not a great situation to learn,” Cuthair said.
This improvement project was made possible through regional planning efforts led by the Ute Mountain Ute tribal organization in cooperation with American Senses Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper of Colorado and the Department of Commerce.
“Investing in reliable Internet access for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe will increase economic development, enhance access to health care and improve children’s education,” Senator John Hickenlooper said in the press release.
This month, the Commerce Department also awarded grants under the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program. The grants, totaling nearly $ 1 million, were awarded to the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Arizona and the Lake Short Ears Band of the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.
“Affordable, high-speed broadband is essential to help families work, learn and participate in modern society. But far too often tribal communities in Colorado and across the country do not have access, ”Bennet said in the press release.