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Yurok Tribe Implements Extensive Broadband Project

Yurok Tribe Implements Extensive Broadband Project - High-speed, Yurok Connect Internet will be Available Before the End of 2020

The Yurok Tribal Council recently approved a $2.1 million project that will significantly boost Yurok Connect’s data transmission speeds and expand its coverage to many family homes that have never had access to the internet.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act-funded, Yurok Connect Broadband Project is expected to be completed before the end of this year. Launched in 2013 and administered by the Yurok IT Department, Yurok Connect is a Yurok Tribe-owned, wireless internet service provider.

“The Broadband Project will considerably enhance emergency communications on the reservation for decades to come,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “It will also create a wide range of additional benefits for tribal citizens, ranging from new economic opportunities to improved healthcare options. This is game changer for the Yurok Tribe.”

“Yurok Connect customers and tribal government offices can expect to experience a night-and-day difference in the speed of our internet services,” added Jessica Engle, the Director of the Yurok Tribe’s Information Technology Department, who is overseeing this project on behalf of the Tribe. “This project is going to produce many positive outcomes, such as greater access to distance-learning platforms and virtual job opportunities, not to mention all of the other benefits associated with a fast internet service.”

In addition to creating the digital framework to confront the COVID-19 crisis, the Broadband Project will facilitate meaningful progress in several key areas, including: education, e-commerce, telehealth, natural disaster response and public safety. Local students of all ages will be able to participate in online learning because the high-speed service offers sufficient bandwidth to sustain online teaching platforms. Yurok Connect customers will be able to quickly communicate with their primary care physicians and other types of healthcare providers. Yurok artists and traditional tradespeople will be able to sell their professional-quality products to patrons all over the world. During the time of physical distancing, this technology will also help families and friends remain in close contact through any number of online applications.

Yurok Connect’s forthcoming 1 gigabit per second service is several times faster than what is currently offered and will be commensurate to speeds enjoyed in more populated areas. The Yurok Reservation, located in far Northern California, is considered to be one of the most technologically disadvantaged parts of the state. Currently, Yurok Connect cannot reach a significant segment of the reservation, which has hindered the Tribe’s capacity to communicate with its citizens during the crisis. The Yurok Connect Broadband Project will permanently resolve this issue.

For the past five years, Yurok Connect has gradually expanded its service area. Prior to receiving the CARES dollars, the IT Department developed a detailed plan for the Yurok Connect Broadband Project and acquired a grant to implement a portion of the now fully funded undertaking. The department also obtained a grant to hire EnerTribe, a Native American-owned firm, to engineer and construct the electronic infrastructure. The construction will involve elevating existing towers and installing one new tower in the Wautec area. EnerTribe is currently re-engineering and building up the Yurok tower sites to accommodate better broadband speeds. The towers will also be equipped with cutting-edge, superior quality hardware to support fast internet velocities.

"We are thrilled to be working with our big brother and sister tribes at such a critical time. The pandemic has impacted Indigenous communities globally in such a devastating way and if broadband can help make it just a little easier for our tribal governments to operate, we are grateful to contribute," said EnerTribe CEO Forest James (no relation to Chairman James).

IT and EnerTribe are working closely with the Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer to ensure that all aspects of the Broadband Project are accomplished in accordance with the THPO Ordinance.

Simultaneous to the Broadband Project, the Tribe is working on strengthening emergency communications in other substantive ways. Many of the family homes outside of the current internet coverage area also do not have telephone services. The Yurok IT Department secured two grants to get the existing broadband towers cellular ready and to begin a search for commercial carriers to take advantage of this opportunity, which will vastly expand cellphone reception on the reservation. The department and EnerTribe are actively looking for a cellular provider to offer this much-needed service. This component of the project is expected to be completed sometime next year

“The combination of the CARES Act funding and smart planning has accelerated our efforts to build a brighter future for the Yurok people,” Chairman James said. “I would like to commend the Tribal Council, the IT Department, EnerTribe and THPO for laying the groundwork to substantially enhance reservation infrastructure for the long term.”

To date, the Tribal Council has tactically invested CARES Act dollars into multiple projects that address different challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis, while setting the stage for future success. For example, last week, the Tribe broke ground on a 20,000 square foot emergency operations center, which will serve as the headquarters for the Yurok Incident Command Team. CARES dollars were used to start a forgivable grant program for tribal business owners and entrepreneurs. The Tribe has also sent $1,250 in relief funding to tribal citizens who are facing financial challenges because of the pandemic and are over the age of 18 by December 30, 2020.

The construction of the new internet infrastructure received funding from CARES Act and the three separate organizations, the Tribal Nations Grant Fund, US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Launched in 2013, Yurok Connect offers inexpensive broadband internet to individuals, Tribal offices as well as Tribally owned and private businesses. The Yurok IT Department built the whole, wireless internet system from the ground up. The wireless internet service provider is a self-sustaining business administered entirely by Yurok citizens.

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission funded the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative, which seeks to install fiber-optic cable from Orleans to Orick as well as from Weitchpec to Wautec on the Yurok Reservation. This project is currently in the permitting phase and will complement the Yurok Connect Broadband Project.

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