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CARES Funding Fuels Oregon Reservation's Investment in Broadband and Wi-Fi Hubs

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

Warm Springs, OR

Struggles with internet access due to the lack of broadband infrastructure on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation became crippling with the switch to remote school and work. With an influx of CARES funding, the reservation was able to offer residents reliable broadband service and set up free Wi-Fi hubs.

Topics Covered

Digital Divide
Customer Service

Cost

Initial: 496 Thousand USD

Funding

Federal grants

Project Status

Operational since 2020

Problem Addressed

Reliable broadband access on the Warm Springs reservation in Oregon, located about 60 miles from Bend, is a rare commodity.

Due to the reservation’s lack of broadband infrastructure, residents mainly rely on satellite dishes to access the internet.

Broadband access in rural areas, and particularly on reservations, has been a problem since the 1990s. According to a US Census report released in 2018, between 79-84% of Oregon households had broadband service, compared to only 53% of Native American households on tribal land.

With the transition to virtual learning and work from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Warm Springs did not have the necessary infrastructure set up to provide broadband to its residents, leaving students and workers in a difficult situation. Mobile broadband hotspots were distributed to students but still resulted in inconsistent connections with the network offering speeds limited to between 1.5-4 Mbps.

Funding was desperately needed to upgrade the reservation’s telecom infrastructure, administered by the tribe through Warm Springs Telecom.

“With the COVID pandemic, most of our customers need to video conference with work and school, which was either a challenge or flat out impossible,” said Tim York, general manager of Warm Springs Telecom, a utility owned by the tribal government.

Solutions Used

One of two Oregon tribal nations to receive CARES funding to upgrade their broadband infrastructure, Warm Springs Telecom received $492,290 to upgrade office equipment and radio equipment on towers and in equipment huts.

The influx of funding enabled the utility to begin building a fiber-optic network, giving customers access to internet speeds of 25 Mbps. Due to the mountainous terrain on which the reservation is located, installing fiber cable is more costly and limits the utility’s ability to run fiber cable to all households.

With further funding, Warm Springs Telecom will be able to offer speeds of 100 Mbps or higher, as well as install free Wi-Fi in the downtown area for students who still are unable to get consistent access to broadband from home. In a further effort to aid the population in getting access to this essential service, Warm Springs Telecom will reduce the cost by subsidizing broadband for its customers.

Outcomes

1

Warm Springs Residents experienced a jump in internet speeds from 1.5mbps to 25mbps.

2

Warm Springs Telecom received $492,290 in CARES funding to upgrade broadband infrastructure

3

Free Wi-Fi was installed downtown for students unable to access the internet from home

4

Warm Springs Telecom will reduce costs to residents for necessary internet access by subsidizing broadband service

Something Unique

The reservation’s application to boost broadband accessibility was accelerated through an FCC initiative titled the “Rural Tribal Priority Window” that prioritizes tribal access to broadband to close the digital divide.

Who Should Consider

Rural, mountainous communities where building broadband infrastructure is very costly and funding isn’t readily available.

Last Updated

Mar 29th, 2022

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