A hefty grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will bring increased broadband access to Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribal communities.
The $126.8 million chunk of federal funding will support the installation of miles and miles of fiber optic cable to enhance broadband access and increase connectivity to existing fiber optic lines in rural portions of Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
In a joint announcement event broadcast via Zoom Thursday morning, Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Joe Davis said, “Having that [improved] connectivity will only increase our educational inputs and outputs, as well as access to health care. There are so many other great benefits for people and it’s really just a day where we’ve taken a step forward towards stronger, better tribal sovereignty.”
The Yurok Tribe’s Telecommunications Corporation today received $61,661,365 while the Hoopa Valley Tribe received $65,140,407. In a press release, the Yurok Tribe said the funds will be used to install 62 miles of “middle-mile” fiber optic cable from Orick to Crescent City as well as last-mile spurs extending from the main line to Requa and Klamath Glenn.
Yurok Tribal Chairman Joe James described the grants as a big win for Indian country as a whole.
“We talk about self determination, sovereignty. Here it is,” James said. He thanked the NTIA, the Biden administration, Congressman Jared Huffman and others for their efforts, saying the project will bring high-speed internet to probably 1,000 homes, 110 business and 18 anchor institutions while providing cell service across the Yurok reservation and producing nearly 200 local jobs.
“This is just the beginning,” he added, saying the tribe will continue to pursue the resources needed to ensure that everyone in the Yurok Tribal area has access to reliable high-speed internet.
Andy Burke, the NTIA’s special representative for broadband, talked about the internet’s power to connect communities, noting in particular the Yurok Tribe’s efforts to revive its language and saying broadband will help further those efforts. Burke said the two awards should connect 2,000 households to high-speed internet.
The last bipartisan infrastructure bill provided $65 billion for broadband connectivity, and Burke said $14 billion of that will go toward improving affordability. “And particularly for those who live on tribal lands, you now have a $75-a-month voucher if you make less than 200 percent of [the federal] poverty [level]. That is really huge,” he said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone was present at the announcement.
“Wow, what a day, right?” he said. “This is just an amazing thing. $127 million. We as a committee are honored by the support from NTIA as well as the support from Congressman Huffman. And, you know ‘humble’ is a part of our name in Humboldt County, right? And we are truly humbled as a county by this federal support in Indian country.”
Reached by phone ahead of this morning’s announcement, Congressman Jared Huffman told the Outpost the grant funding would be a “game changer” for the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes.
“This is going to be transformative, I think, for both of these tribes,” Huffman said. “There are folks on the reservation that don’t even have electricity. This is just a huge game changer for their quality of life and for economic development and other opportunities that they sorely need. To finally be able to deliver on something that literally solves the problem – that’s pretty exciting.”
Huffman added that the announcement served as “a great example of the federal government finally stepping up to deliver on things that we’ve been talking about for years.”
“A lot of federal money is being rolled out for infrastructure, for clean energy, tribal needs and for health care,” he said. “There’s just a lot of good news, finally, from Washington that is beginning to meet community needs and a really exciting way.”
Press release from the Yurok Tribe:
Today, the Yurok Tribe’s Telecommunications Corporation received a $61 million Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to significantly increase broadband access and boost the economy on California’s far north coast.
With the NTIA funds, the Tribe will install 62 miles of middle-mile fiber optic cable from Orick to Crescent City as well as last-mile spurs extending from the main line to Requa and Klamath Glenn. Representing one of the largest-ever technological advancements in the region, the project will bring high-speed broadband to nearly 1,000 homes, 110 businesses and 18 anchor institutions. The installation of the critical infrastructure is projected to produce nearly 200 local jobs in the next few years.
“This is an absolute game changer, not only for us, but for every community throughout our ancestral territory in Northern California,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like to sincerely thank the Biden Administration and NTIA’s Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program for investing in our effort to eliminate the digital divide and resolve longstanding disparities in healthcare, economic development and education.”
“I am equally excited about the capacity-building and economic development elements of this project. This historic undertaking will further diversify our economic development portfolio and create lasting, living-wage jobs for our citizens,” said Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers. “It will also help us address the longstanding disparity in access to affordable, high-speed internet services.”
“I am proud that we will be able to put the infrastructure in place to bring internet and electricity to the most remote parts of our reservation,” said Yurok Tribal Council Member Mindy Natt, who represents the Pecwan District.
“I would like to thank Congressman Jared Huffman for consistently supporting our rural community. After more than a decade of hard work, affordable high-speed internet and approximately 200 jobs are coming to the North Coast,” said Del Norte County Supervisor Susan Masten, who represents the Fifth District.
The Yurok Tribal Council was intimately involved in the development of this life-changing project. The Tribal Council thanks the NTIA for the opportunity to have such a positive impact on the community. In addition to the fiber optic line, the Tribe will construct seven towers equipped with commercial-grade telecommunications equipment to serve the Yurok Reservation. The towers will be placed at the following locations: Johnsons, Notchko, New Village, Schoolhouse Peak, the Klamath River Jet Boats property, Redwood RV park and Klamath Glen. The project will also create opportunities for better cell service in the region.
The far-sighted project will also provide professional development opportunities to local individuals interested in pursuing broadband-related jobs. The Tribe will conduct trainings to teach community members how to install, maintain and operate broadband equipment. Administered in partnership with the Yurok Tribal Employment Rights Office, the trainings will offer tribal citizens the skills, certifications, and experience they need to take advantage of well-paying jobs with the Tribe and in the private sector.
“The Yurok citizens who complete the training will be able pursue career-level jobs to support their families. To me, this is one of the most important parts of this project,” said Yurok Tribal Council Member Ryan Ray, who represents the Requa District. “This project will also level the playing field for tribal entrepreneurs, who will be able to market their amazing products online for the first time.”
“The Yurok Telecommunications Corporation looks forward to implementing this much-needed project, we’ve been diligently preparing in hopes of receiving this funding.” said Kori Cordero, a Yurok Telecommunications Corporation representative. “The region has needed this infrastructure for a really long time and we can’t wait to begin the build.”
This project will substantially strengthen the tribal and local economies in the long term. Once the fiber optic cable is installed, the Tribe will offer broadband and interconnection services to residents, businesses, non-profits and government organizations. The Tribe will also have the ability to lease space and create additional revenue for infrastructure maintenance.
Extending from Damnation Creek in Del Norte County to the Little River in Humboldt County, Yurok ancestral territory is located in one of the most technologically underserved parts of the California. The big telecoms companies have made very few investments in this rural region because they can generate bigger profits in more populated places. On the reservation, the lack of reliable internet is the single biggest impediment to progress in several key areas, including: public health, education, economic development, emergency communications. There are numerous reservation residents who lack access to cellular and internet services. These residents, which include tribal elders, cannot call 911, participate in distance learning or schedule telehealth appointments.
Over the past decade, the Tribe has continuously increased access to broadband services. It began in 2009 with the creation of Yurok Connect and the deployment of some on-Reservation infrastructure. The Tribe has expanded from that first key infrastructure and in 2020, the Tribe installed a 150-foot tower in Wautec and elevated five existing telecoms towers. The Tribe is also a partner in the Klamath River Rural Broadband Initiative (KRRBI), a project led by the Karuk Tribe. Currently in the permitting phase, the KRRBI project will extend a fiber optic cable from Orleans to Orick. Once complete, the KRRBI fiber infrastructure will be jointly owned and managed by the Yurok Tribe and Karuk Tribe and will complement the Yurok fiber project between Orick and Crescent City.
Outpost reporter Isabella Vanderheiden contributed to this report.