A $2.8 million federal grant will help the Coeur d’Alene Tribe bring wireless, high-speed Internet service to its entire North Idaho reservation this summer.
The grant will allow the tribe to offer broadband wireless connections to all 6,000 households on the reservation, said Valerie Fast Horse, information technology director for the Coeur d’Alenes.
Starting in August, all residents, both tribal and nontribal, will be able to subscribe to “Wi-Fi” service for roughly $30 a month. That’s slightly below rates for comparable DSL or high-speed cable service.
About 1,900 members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe live on the reservation, but they make up a minority of all reservation residents, said Fast Horse. Census figures estimate the reservation has 6,000 households.
Residents of the 345,000-acre reservation — which spills into both Benewah and Kootenai counties — have not had easy access to broadband connections, said Fast Horse.
But “broadband technology is a necessary condition to promote economic diversity and growth within our reservation,” she said.
“This technology lays the foundation for all sorts of business opportunities across the reservation,” she added, noting the potential impact on the tribe is comparable to how horses shaped tribal culture.
The tribe will also have 40 computers inside a new Coeur d’Alene Tribe Community Technology Center to provide broadband Internet access to those who can’t afford the monthly subscription.
The tribe’s grant was awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Assistance Center.
Fast Horse said the tribe is contributing $500,000 to manage the project and invest in the community technology center. It will have a grand opening on July 21.
Fast Horse said the new technology center will have several Apple computers and a large number of dual-boot computers that let people work either in the Windows or Linux operating systems.
“You can get as nerdy as you want because of those choices,” she said.
Vivato Inc. is selling the tribe the hardware and infrastructure to run the network. That Spokane Valley company is providing four high-powered base stations plus about a dozen wireless antennas to provide complete wireless coverage across the reservation.
Northwest Microwave, Inc., based in Yakima, will provide the network feed to the reservation.
The tribe’s grant application suggested a major benefit of the Wi-Fi network will be increased access to education for people who live on the reservation. Not only will the network provide broadband access to the tribe’s elementary school in DeSmet, but it also will create options for adults looking to continue their education, said Fast Horse.
Fast Horse said the long drives from the reservation to area colleges prevent many residents from taking classes to improve their career skills. Broadband technology should give people more chances to take part in distance-learning programs, she said.
Also benefiting will be the tribe’s Benewah Medical Center in Plummer. The broadband link will give doctors there the option of sharing large health-data files with doctors and clinics around the country.
Tom Jones, systems engineer for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said the extended-range capability of Vivato’s equipment was the deciding factor in choosing that supplier. The same technology is the heart of Spokane’s downtown “HotZone” wireless network.
Tribes nationwide have worked on bridging the vast gap in resources dividing rural communities and those in technology-rich urban areas. On the west side of Washington, a number of tribes have received grants through the Bill and Melinda Gates or the Paul Allen foundations to provide wireless broadband access.
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