Broadband Bootcamp Comes to Arizona Tribal Community
Over eighteen percent of Tribal residents live without internet access, an essential infrastructure the world revolves around. A community of people is ready to share their resources and experiences to bridge this gap to help Tribes strategize how to connect their residents.
In collaboration with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Connect Humanity, and the Indigenous Connectivity Summit, the Tribal Broadband Bootcamp provides a hands-on, comprehensive learning experience on building and running a Tribal network. With over 60 participants, the Bootcamp was held from January 22 to January 25 in the Gila River Community near Phoenix, AZ. Participants included internet service providers (ISP), Tribal leaders, community members, and policy advocates, hoping to close the digital divide in Indian Country.
The Bootcamp covered the technical aspects of deploying broadband, from laying conduits to connecting homes. Participants learned the function, cost, and maintenance differences between fiber and copper conduits. Participants were able to ask questions on what type of conduit will work best for their community and budget. Fiber tends to be more reliable, while copper is a dated material. They also learned how to lay and maintain conduit underground to ensure it would last for years. Laying them underground may be more beneficial than connecting them to electrical posts, but it tends to be more expensive.
Bootcamp participants also had hands-on experiences and learned about the latest technology in strengthening Wi-Fi signals and detecting disruptions to fiber connections. A tutorial on wire crimping, the process of attaching connectors to the ends of ethernet cables, was given. This is mainly done when installing Wi-Fi into a home. Presenters also gave demonstrations on splicing, which creates a connection between two strands of fiber.
Tribal ISPs such as Acorn Wireless and Gila River Telecommunications Inc. (GRTI) shared their experiences and challenges during their broadband deployment journey. They advised participants on budgeting, working with contractors, and developing customer support.
The Bootcamp also covered the challenges Tribes often face while trying to deploy broadband. Many people live in highly rural areas where connecting them with fiber is an immense task. Homes without electricity make internet access impossible to have. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that many tribes lack funding to connect all homes in their communities. Federal funding is available for broadband projects but tends to be unequally allocated for Tribes.
The participants also discussed Digital Equity and ensuring community members are equipped with devices and know how to properly use those devices and software once they gain broadband access. This includes providing training on digital literacy and distributing adequate devices to community members.
Hopi Telecommunications Customer Service Representative Alicia Youvella said the Digital Equity presentation resonated with her. Hopi Telecommunications offers broadband service to the Hopi community. However, many members needed digital literacy when they gained access. This was especially seen during the COVID-19 pandemic when community members had to attend school and work from home. Individuals were intimidated to use new technology like Zoom. To remedy this, Hopi Telecommunications offered digital literacy classes that covered search engines and work-from-home basics.
“All these things, you must educate them individually and hold their hand because they feel afraid, “said Youvella. “That was the most common response during the literacy training.”
Youvella said the Bootcamp was a great experience where people working on closing the digital divide can come together and learn from each other’s experiences. Working in this space is vital to ensuring a bright future for Indian Country.
“I think that once you get into the work, it becomes a passion,” Youvella said. “You see the difference you're making and the difference that others have made. You know it's possible, so it drives you to do more. It makes you want to be accountable to those you serve and give opportunities to geographic areas we know are desolate and isolated.”
The Tribal Broadband Bootcamp is a beneficial resource for Tribal leaders and community members to attend if they have plans or troubles with deploying broadband across Indian Country. More Bootcamps will be held throughout 2023. More information and registration details can be found here.