A Digital Legacy on Tribal Lands
December 01, 2022
Olsson will partner with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska to close the digital divide with a $35.2 million federal grant awarded through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.
The project will provide access to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) broadband service for more than 600 households, 40 businesses, and 16 tribal institutions in a rural reservation community currently unserved by high-speed internet. The northeastern Nebraska reservation is located about 80 miles north of Omaha.
The announcement of the grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) culminated more than year of work by tribal officials, governmental staff, and members of Olsson’s Telecom Program to complete a complex feasibility study and grant application under a tight deadline.
As a subgrantee, Olsson will now oversee the design and implementation of the fiber network on the Winnebago Reservation. Design will commence this year with construction starting in 2023.
Celebrating a Milestone
Tribal officials and NTIA leaders met October 11 in Winnebago to announce the grant award and sign related documents. The event featured speeches, a meal, and the playing of “Victory Song” and “Thank-you Song” by the Winnebago drum group New Breed.
Winnebago Tribe Chairwoman Victoria Kitcheyan thanked her fellow tribal leaders, federal and state agency representatives, members of the Olsson team, and other project partners. She discussed how the project will allow tribal members to participate in online education from pre-school to college, and stay better connected to friends, family, and tribal government.
The intention is to build a fiber network that serves the Winnebago people for generations to come, she explained.
“This is the livelihood we want for the tribal members,” Victoria said. “Each of you are going to benefit from the connectivity and expansion of fiber in our community. And I’m thankful that all those intentions have brought us to this day and we’re going to celebrate this in the coming years, in the future generations that will benefit.”
Working Toward Digital Equity
The Winnebago grant was one of 23 included in the latest round of a federal program that has awarded $1.35 billion to 94 tribal entities.
Laura Spinning, NTIA Deputy Associate Director with the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, said the federal agency is dedicated to helping indigenous communities fully partake in what it means “to learn and earn using high-speed internet.”
“One of the things I want to leave you with is how critically important your voice is going to be as we work with the State of Nebraska to implement what is a historical and monumental amount of investment,” Laura told those gathered at the event in Winnebago.
Olsson’s work on the project began in July 2021 when our team fast-tracked the initial assessment and met a deadline of September 1, 2021, for the following requirements:
- Review and documentation of existing infrastructure
- Assessment of the local broadband market
- Coordination of stakeholder outreach
- Evaluation of regulatory, governance, and ownership
- Development of concept level design for the network
- Estimates of construction costs
- Submittal of the federal grant application
“This has been a true partnership with the Winnebago Tribe,” said Todd Fredericksen, Olsson’s Telecom leader. “We couldn’t be more excited to help oversee the build-out of infrastructure expected to deliver a major economic impact, expand health care services, and create educational and job-training opportunities in this community.”
Photographs courtesy of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska