|Jan 31, 2012 --
Tribal drums, singing and dancing children adorned in their finest traditional regalia welcomed the arrival of broadband Internet – along with 21st Century economic, education, public safety and health care opportunities – on the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Central Oregon last week. Hundreds of community members joined the celebration along with USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager and State Director Vicki Walker.
With $5.4 million in USDA Recovery Act broadband funding, Warm Springs Telecommunications Company has constructed a state-of-the-art fiber and fixed wireless network that will eventually serve everyone on the 644,000-acre reservation with telephone and broadband. Having received federal Eligible Telecommunications Carrier certification (ETC), the company will also be able to offer tribal members telephone services for just $1/month. Until now, about one-third of those living on the reservation have not had access to phone or Internet service. In a region with extremely high unemployment levels, the development is significant.
"I am really excited for the Internet," said reservation resident Amanda Frank. "I have been waiting to use the Internet for the past five years, to do some homework and other business stuff, and I haven't been able to do it."
Warm Springs Telecom is just the ninth tribally owned telecom in the nation. The creation of this company serves as an economic development engine that has created jobs employing tribal members and will continue to support economic opportunity with the availability of modern telecommunications for local business ventures seeking to participate in the global marketplace.
“Telecommunications is a critical infrastructure that we can’t continue to live without,” says tribal member and telecom board chair Sylvester “Sal” Sahme. “Education, jobs, healthcare and economic development all rely on having sophisticated telecommunications. We can’t afford to lag further behind other Americans. We needed to do this and build out this new company to serve our people and bring us into future. This is an exciting day for our tribes.”
“You have the full support of the Obama Administration in your efforts to improve economic opportunities and quality of life here on the reservation,” Under Secretary Tonsager said in a keynote address.
“USDA has been with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs every step of the way,” commented State Director Walker. “A Rural Business Opportunity Grant (RBOG) and a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) in 2007 and 2008 moved forward pre-planning and feasibility studies for this vitally important project.”