Through Chuck Hoskin Jr
guest opinion In the modern world, high-speed internet access has become an indispensable utility, just like water, gas and electricity. All residents of the Cherokee Nation Reservation need the opportunity to participate in the digital economy. Many Americans now take services like telemedicine, remote work, and access to the vast amount of information and resources for learning and communicating online for granted. Unfortunately, broadband access on tribal reservations lags behind the rest of the country.
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and I have been working diligently toward a long-term goal of ensuring that all of our citizens, including those in our most rural communities in Northeast Oklahoma, can still receive the latest and greatest technology. It is part of our deep commitment to communities that have been ignored and neglected by other institutions but will never leave the Cherokee Nation behind. Our 7,000 square mile reservation encompasses many low-income rural areas where our language and culture thrive but economic resources are hard to find.
That’s why we were so pleased that the Cherokee Nation received a $34 million federal grant through the US Department of Commerce’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program. Funding comes from the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and will be used to install fiber optic lines and telecommunications infrastructure for high-speed internet services to reach rural households. More than 6,000 Cherokee households will soon be connected to their tribe, language, ministries and families.
Cherokee Nation’s new subsidy dollars will allow us to deploy more than 240 miles of fiber optic connectivity, including telecom towers, in a number of Cherokee communities currently lacking broadband in Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Cherokee and Sequoyah counties. These communities are home to high concentrations of Cherokee speakers, so providing them with better means of communication is also essential to our language revitalization efforts.
This is a generational opportunity. Access to broadband internet means older people in rural areas will be better able to keep in touch with family regardless of where they live, and younger people who wish to remain in close-knit communities will find this easier and still have opportunities to do so with the connect the wide world.
We will begin the engineering and design process shortly, and construction of this life-changing broadband network is expected to begin in 2023. This initiative is just the beginning. We plan to use the network built by the $34 million grant as a hub for future broadband deployments across the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
The digital divide plaguing Indian Country has been clearly felt during the pandemic. We recognize the importance of access to affordable, reliable broadband to the health of citizens, the education of our students, and our employees’ access to remote work. We’ve deployed nearly 11,000 mobile hotspots to Cherokee homes without internet access. The tribe also built more than 35 drive-up WiFi locations in Cherokee communities across the reservation, allowing citizens without internet access at home to connect while remaining socially distanced.
Tribes like the Cherokee Nation are best placed to understand the needs of our communities. With federal dollars and Cherokee hard work and expertise, we are building the digital infrastructure to have a Cherokee Nation reservation where both traditional culture and modern economic opportunities can thrive. Broadband access can be the bridge between our past and our future.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr. is the most important chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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